Advent 3, Dec. 15, 2013 – Hope continues

Title:Advent 3, Dec. 15, 2013 – Hope continues

  Last Sunday, December 15, 2013  (full size gallery)

Two big events this week. The ECW luncheon on Wed. Dec 11 with 10 people and the Community Dinner on Friday Dec. 13 with well over 150.

Wow! We had 61 in church including 3 visitors. 3rd Advent is the lighting of the white candle for hope. Each of the Godly Play children have now lit at least one candle.

Advent 3 is the culmination point for gifts for our family. The ECM (Helmut) announced they had provided for one family and had enough funds for a second. We brought gifts from the tree to the church today for the family adopted by the church.

We celebrated Cookie and Johnny’s 29th wedding anniversary as well as birthday for T.C. Collins and Nancy Long.

Marilyn Newman was in the paper for winning a gingerbread contest.

Ken Pogue described his new project to organize the youth from kindergarten to age 18 for caroline during the week of Christmas and the week after. He gave out flyers at the Community Dinner. First rehearsal is Monday, Dec. 16th at the Fire house.

Barbara Wisdom was recognized for her work in organizing the Community Dinner on December 13. She in in turn thanked her many volunteers. The story is here.

This week, Advent 3, could be a continuation of last Sunday which also featured John the Baptist.  The readings are here. The emphasis on preparedness was there. This week is the search for John the Baptist for clarification about Jesus – he is being prepared to understand Jesus as very different from his original understanding.  And he is being challenged physically as well as mentally.

John the Baptist has been arrested and imprisoned. Discouraged and in doubt, he sends messengers to ask about Jesus identity: “Are you the one who is to come” (v. 3) The words "the Coming One" are John’s unique words for Jesus.  John asks this question because word has gotten back to him regarding the deeds of Jesus (11:2)  

Two things about Matthew’s portrait of John are interesting. First, John talks about the ministry of "the coming one" (the same word he uses in 11:3 in asking the question of Jesus) as almost exclusively consisting of separating people for the judgment to come. The "coming one" will burn the chaff with the fire that doesn’t go out, the "asbestos" fire. That is the picture that remains with us from Matthew (indeed, this is similar to Luke).

The readings from the Old Testament this week speak of hope. Isaiah talks about a new Jerusalem and being open for returning exiles from the Babylonian captivity 500+ years before Christ. 1 restoration of the land to fertility, 2 the end of human suffering and infirmity, 3 the restoration of hope and justice, and 4 the joyful return of the exiles from captivity. Our psalm echoes the theme of restoration from Isaiah, focussing especially on God’s justice. It talks about God’s justice in his care and action on behalf of defenseless members of society, including the oppressed, the hungry, prisoners, the blind, the weak or humiliated. Place your faith not in humans or in institutions but the reign of God.  

And that is the clue for Jesus in Matthew as the promise fulfilled . 

Jesus is the coming one and is different from the message last week. What John hears and sees is one who brings forgiveness, healing, and mercy. Only Matthew’s Jesus explicitly says, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," not once but twice (9:13; 12:7).  

 Is Jesus who he says he is ? At the time of Jesus it was shameful and dishonorable to publicly claim for oneself a higher status than one was born with. Obviously, Jesus was more than a carpenter’s son from backwater Nazareth.  John introduces doubt into Advent.  John is, in plain language, doubting Jesus. Jesus doesn’t fit his understanding of the "Coming One," and he asks for "clarification" from Jesus. 

Jesus is saying and doing things that are getting people talking about him. Gossip is spreading. Even into the prison where John is. People are starting to wonder – Just who is this guy? What are we to make of him? 

 Echoing Isaiah, Jesus points out that the blind, the deaf, the lame and the lepers are being healed and good news is given to the poor. What Jesus is saying in response to John is that not only are the aspirations of Israel fulfilled in him, but that there is a direct connection between the deeds of Isaiah and the words of Matt 5. Jesus is a a words and deeds "Coming One." And the deeds, which John focused on in his question, are different from the deeds that John imagined.  

Jesus recognizes John for who he is. John is more than a prophet. He may be a person who stumbles over Christ, because he doesn’t have a conceptual world that is broad enough to include the deeds and words of Jesus, but he is more than a prophet, and he should be honored as such.    Jesus validates John’s ministry as a true prophet (by quoting a prophecy from Malachi, v. 10), going on even to identify John as Elijah, returned (v. 14). (Jews understood the time of the prophets to have ended, but took Malachi’s words to mean that Elijah would come again.)

The sermon’s emphasis was a combination of Isaiah and Matthew concentrating on John’s questions. "The season of Advent, and this Sunday’s scriptures in particular, remind us that questioning our faith is part of our preparation for God’s coming into the world as one of us. And we’re often too busy, or too scared of where our questioning might take us, to question our faith. "

Jesus urges John to stay the course. "The message Jesus was sending to John was this—remember, you are God’s person, and you are walking on this highway through the desert, on this Holy Way, even if you’re in a dark and dreary place right now. And your job right now is to stay on the Highway—to stay the course, even though you’re being held prisoner in Herod’s dark dungeon. Walking on the Holy Way will give John, and now gives us, the courage to stay the course, to know that even as we walk through the desolations in our own lives, and feel waylaid and imprisoned by them, that ultimately we will not go astray."

The word "joy" means “the entire activity of making a feast before God.” "We make a feast before God when we spend time in the companionship of those in the Christian community, walking the Holy Way in the company of God and with one another, with God as our horizon and our destination. And we make a feast before God in prayer. Setting aside time for God in prayer allows us to hear Jesus speaking to us, especially when we wonder and ask the question that John asked Jesus. ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ "

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