Jesus and John come to us today saying that the advent of God’s reign is here, but John questions alongside us, about what we assume God’s reign to be.
Vicar Mollie Hamre
Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
Texts: Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 146:5-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11
Beloved in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The season of Advent can sometimes feel deceptive.
When expectations of Hallmark movie moments, snow falling peacefully, and always feeling joyful, are replaced with grieving, change, and struggles, it is hard to feel convinced it is the most wonderful time of the year. This season includes time processing the challenges of the past year, mourning the loss of empty seats at the table, and occasionally, not wanting to hear another Christmas song on the radio telling one to feel happy. Joy, peace, hope, and love? Not so much. Expectations for the holiday season are not always what we want them to be. Today Jesus, God with us, comes and tells us that is okay. Advent is not about reaching expectations or criteria, but embracing one another and what comes to us unexpectedly.
In the Gospel today, we learn that our expectations are not the only ones challenged.
John asks Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” For John, who is in prison, one can not help but wonder if he is having second thoughts. I would be too. Our first reading from Isaiah would have been John’s expectations for the coming of God, but John’s question signals a disconnect between the expectation set by Isaiah and what John was expecting from Jesus, God with us.
Is this what God’s triumphant coming is supposed to look like? One where people are still suffering and God not yet wiped away all evil? Is this the advent of the Messiah that we are supposed to celebrate?
What do you think John expected?
Isaiah describes all of the miraculous ways God will impact the world. People in Jesus’s day knew this passage that describes the coming God. A coming that will transform creation and all will be at peace. No traveler, not even fools, will go astray and the world will thrive and rejoice. The imagery that Isaiah uses is pretty clear–when God comes the world transforms. People flourish. The land blossoms. The dead are raised.
Just not in the way that one would expect, Jesus says.
In recognizing John’s questions, Jesus chooses to turn to John. John, the one who we heard about last week: outspoken, dressed in “camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, munching on locusts and wild honey. Not necessarily the champion prophet one might be expecting. This guy is the messenger of the Messiah? The one challenging authorities and causing trouble? Calling people to repent and asking people to leave their comfort zones?
Jesus poses the question back “What then did you go out to see?” A reed shaken by the wind? A person that bends and blows around to seek popularity? Certainly not someone dressed in soft robes or living in a palace. John, might not be what you expect, but God works within all people just as they come. Jesus, God with us, challenges their expectations.
So what does this mean for us in the season of Advent?
Jesus’s answer to John’s question is not yes or no, but instead encouragement to John’s disciples to describe what they hear and see. People receiving sight, being cured of diseases, and hearing good news. God’s work is happening and in motion.
But, it is hard to not be skeptical about this coming, even the people in Jesus’s time were uncertain. Advent asks us to embrace the coming of Jesus and what it means for the world. But there are still people suffering in the world. There is still violence. There is still sickness. Isn’t it rather bold to hope that we have the world Isaiah and Jesus proclaim? And amidst all of that, we are still trying to seek out the hope that they speak of.
And Jesus says “hold on to that hope, let’s take a look.”
People one by one are finding healing in therapy, hospitals, and mending broken relationships. Those that have died are being raised and remembered each time when we share a meal together. People are blessed, by each other, and between each other. Although slowly, there is healing happening within communities. This might not be in the way you were expecting, but Jesus’s words are there. Do you see what is happening within these people?
We see God strengthening weak hands to hold each other. God’s presence in understanding one another so that we can hear the voices of those who are oppressed. Harsh winter storms watering the ground for growth in the future. Jesus is not talking about a great moment where the world is transformed in a single sweep, but Jesus instead says, come here and look around. These things that are happening Isaiah, what if we chose to hope and trust in the forms they take today?
Trust in a hope that lifts up one another.
Hope that trusts God is continuing to work within creation in whatever form it comes. These ways that we see God’s healing in the world does not require a Christmas movie storyline. It does not have set criteria for the way that we have to feel during the season of Advent. This season asks us, as a community, to hold hope together. Sometimes it may feel against the odds, but nonetheless hope the Triune God continues to renew us, each year. Working within us to bring God’s advent to the world.
There are no set expectations for how the season of Advent should feel. The coming of God is here, and you are already a part of it–however you may come and Jesus welcomes you. Questions, feelings, and all.
In the name of the Father, and of the ☩ Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.