Advent 3 December 15, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

ADVENT 3  Year

Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

 

Christ Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

 

Last Sunday

John the Baptist

was holding forth

by the River Jordan

proclaiming the nearness of God’s kingdom,

preaching repentance,

calling the people of Israel

to prepare

for the coming Messiah,

 

“one who is more powerful than I . . . ,”

John said,

“I am not worthy to carry his sandals.”

 

Then Jesus himself came to be baptized,

 

and John suddenly saw

the fulfillment of his prophecy

walking right toward him

through the milling crowd –

 

“Why are you coming to me?”

he exclaimed,

“I need to be baptized by you!”

 

 

Yet today we find John

in a squalid prison cell

beneath Herod’s palace,

torn between

hope and doubt.

 

Rumors sifting

into the prison

told of what Jesus was doing

out there in the world.

 

Still John wondered.

 

And so he sent his disciples to Jesus

with the poignant question:

 

“Are you the one who is to come,

or are we to wait for another?”

 

“Have I truly seen God’s promise

at long last fulfilled in you?

 

“or did I get it wrong,

there by the Jordan?”

 

“Are you the answer to our longing,

or must we wait for another?”

 

Jesus’ reaction

to what we might call

John’s crisis of faith:

 

Not criticism,

but encouragement;

 

trust the signs:

 

“Go,” he said to John’s disciples,

“and tell John what you hear and see:

 

“the blind receive their sight,

the lame walk,

the lepers are cleansed,

the deaf hear,

the dead are raised,

and the poor have good news brought to them.”

 

Echoing

the ancient words of Isaiah,

words John knew well,

for John knew the scriptures.

 

“Go and tell John:

These things I am saying and doing

are signs of God’s reign . . .

the salvation Isaiah foretold

breaking into the world

through me.”

 

 

Despite

The tyranny of Herod;

The brutality of Roman soldiers;

The hypocrisy and complicity

of political and religious leaders;

Despite violence, corruption,

oppression, exploitation,

 

Despite all of it . . .

 

In Jesus

God’s kingdom

was breaking into

into the world.

 

 

Like John,

we have recognized

God’s salvation

approaching in Jesus.

 

But how many of us,

in our own desperate time,

no matter how strong our faith,

 

how many of us

find our hope waning,

our spirits spiraling down . . .

 

 

as the world,

and our beloved and always imperfect

but now critically endangered country,

 

continue on a trajectory

of political insanity,

societal disruption,

environmental devastation

 

that can lead only to destruction.

 

And as

we each face our own

particular life challenges.

 

 

“Are you the one who is to come,

or are we to wait for another?”

 

“And how long are we to wait,

how long,

O Lord,

how long?”

 

 

 

My little dog Spike, Jr.,

having had several surgeries

on his fragile back,

has to be confined in a

kind of doggy playpen

when I’m not home,

 

to protect him from

the impact of jumping

on and off

the furniture.

 

He also has to be

confined at feeding time,

to keep him from

going after the food of Charley,

my other and smaller dog . . .

 

and because Spike has to have

a special diet.

 

My role in Spike’s life

is to be

loving provider of all he needs.

 

Every morning and evening,

I get his dish from

his playpen in my bedroom

and take it to the kitchen.

 

 

A brief silence ensues,

followed by frantic desperation

in the bedroom . . .

 

piteous

yips, yelps, squeaks and whines

that continue

until I reappear with his food.

 

It’s as if,

no longer able to see me,

Spike has lost faith

in the possibility of me . . .

and of food . . .

 

and is alone,

hungry and

forsaken.

 

“Are you the one who is to come,

or are we to wait for another?”

 

“And how long must we wait?”

 

Spike, Jr., after all,

is only a dog,

and this little story

is not meant to diminish the anguish

of our own dark times

of questioning

and waiting.

 

 

But it is meant to say

that,

like Spike, Jr.,

who doesn’t know

very much at all

about what is going on

at the Janet level,

 

we don’t know

very much at all

about what is going on

at the God level.

 

The time of my taking the dish

to the kitchen

and my return with his food

seems to Spike an eternity . . .

 

While I have for seven years

reliably fed him morning and evening,

doubt and anxiety spring eternal.

 

This time

I may really have forgotten him

for ever.

 

 

There are times

we can see and feel

God’s promise with us,

 

and times we can see and feel

nothing but absence . . .

 

not realizing that God

is merely in the kitchen

preparing something good for us,

and will give us our food

in due season.

 

Our knowledge is partial,

our understanding incomplete,

our waiting so seemingly long . . .

 

Promises thousands of years old,

reiterated across the millennia

are still not fulfilled.

 

This just doesn’t make sense.

 

But God does not live

in the linear world of time,

nor is God confined by the limitations

of human knowing . . .

our ideas of what makes sense,

what is possible

and what is not.

 

 

 

The uncreated creator

of the heavens and the earth,

once became, impossibly,

a created being in this world . . .

 

The infinite and eternal One,

impossibly,

once lived as we do,

governed by flesh and blood

and the movement of time . . .

 

The immortal one,

(as God) impossibly died,

and

(as human) impossibly rose from death,

to bring about a new creation.

 

The risen One, invisible to our senses,

made manifest to us in bread and wine

that we may taste and see

the Goodness of the Lord.

 

What we claim

and what we live by

and what is possible for God

is beyond reason’s reach.

 

But through the door

of the willing imagination

the impossible possible

enters in.

 

“Are you the one who is to come,

or shall we wait for another?”
Beyond all reason . . .

 

we know

who

went to John to be baptized,

wrestled with temptation in the wilderness,

roamed the countryside for three years,

preaching and teaching and healing,

and was himself finally arrested and executed.

 

We know

who it is

who rose from the dead

so that,

despite the suffering, the crucifixions,

that are an

inevitable part of living,

we might have new life,

and have it abundantly.

 

We know

who it is

who has power to redeem and transform,

and is this very minute at work

redeeming and transforming

all of creation and all of humanity . . .

 

And we know

who it is

who is called,

beyond all possibility,

to share in that work

in our own time.

 

For in every age,

the kingdom of God

is spreading throughout the world

in ways seen and unseen,

in the words and actions

of God’s people . . .

 

always

bringing the prophet Isaiah’s

ancient and glorious vision

to fulfillment:

 

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,

the desert shall rejoice and blossom . . .;

 

“ . . . the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

. . . the ears of the deaf unstopped;

. . . the lame . . . leap like a deer,

. . . the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”

 

“ . . . the ransomed of the Lord shall return

[from their exile], . . .

. . . they shall see the glory of the Lord,

the majesty of our God . . .

 

. . . everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

 

 

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to his disciples,

“unless you change and become like children,

you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

[Matthew 18.3]

 

Advent is a season

for adults to become again

like children, to set aside

the rational

and

allow

a child’s sense

of possibility and wonder

to overtake us,

to open wide

the doors of the imagination

for the arrival of the impossible . . .

 

because,

for God . . . and for children . . .

nothing is impossible.

 

“This is the irrational season,”

writes the poet Madeleine L’Engle,

 

“This is the irrational season

When love blooms bright and wild.

Had Mary been filled with reason

There’d have been no room for the child.”

 

Miracle on 10th Street, Christmas Writings of Madeleine L’Engle,

Howard Shaw Publishers, Wheaton, Ill., 1998, p. 74

 

 

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