Advent 3, Yr A Dec 15 2019
It happens often enough. At this time of year. You are in a store, walking though the displays of various goods- perhaps you are looking for that gift or other times you are waiting for the Spirit to speak to you. It happened to me the other night at Ala Moana, I was in a store- just wandering, and an employee asks me, can I help you find anything?
Now flash over to another store at another time. This time, you have your items to check out, you queue up and wait your turn in line. You put your wares on the counter and the cashier says to you, “Did you find everything you are looking for?”
Are you the one who is to come? Are you the one we are waiting for or is there another? John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus this very question. For us here and now, this question seems to come out of the blue, but quite a bit has happened in Matthew’s Gospel since last weeks description of John the Baptist out in the dessert. In last week’s reading Jesus has yet to appear before his cousin John who is described as the “voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare, ye the way of the Lord.”
And since that time Jesus was baptized by John, tempted in the wilderness, rejected at Nazareth, preached the Sermon on the Mount, calmed the sea, healed numerous people, and raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jesus has been doing just what he said he would do- proclaim the good news of God to the poor, release the captives, give sight to the blind and hearing to those should who could not hear.
Even so, the disciples ask, “Are you the guy?” Jessu replies- tell the John what you hear and see. And it might end there, but Jesus asks an even more poignant question to the disciple of John- Did you find what you were looking for- there- out in the wilderness? Did you go out there to be entertained? Did you go out there to see someone gentile and restrained?
John of course is none of those- the message of the prophet is not merely entertainment, and his message of the coming Messiah was hardly restrained.
We are a long, long way from the days of John. And even though this may be a time of preparation for the arrival of the messiah, traditionally, this third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, gaudete being Latin for rejoice. It marks the turning point of the season, when we focus less on preparing ourselves to be worthy of the incarnate Christ, and rejoice more in the promise that he will come again. Isaiah reinforces this for us with the promise of a blooming desert, the opening of the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Even the letter of James presents a positive hopeful tone of patience in the life of the faith.
But our time of Advent waiting is not the same as a waiting for a bus or at the Dr.’s office where we whip out or phone to play Candy Crush or check our social media feed. Here we call upon God to stir himself up. “Stir up your power O Lord, and by your might coma among us.” Think about that imagery for a moment. We do not ask God to stir us up, though we may need it. In our prayer we challenge God: rouse yourself. Get into action- there is work to do. And what is that work? Let the bountiful grace and mercy help and save us.
In it’s own ancient formula, the prayer is essentially saying, hurry up God- we NEED YOU! Get here quick.
God needs little encouragement from us to stir things up. And Jesus describes the mighty works that are taking place all around him: 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. Remember that John and his disciples have been waiting for the Messaih. They and many of the Jews in their day were looking for the signs- the the fulfillment of prophecies like Isaiahs. To to hear Jesus, there is nothing inert or stagnant in this Gospel picture of the Lord at work. God IS stirred up and engaged. This is what happens, Jesus seems to say, when God’s power and might come among us.
The Lord is not yet through with us and our world. Are we still looking for signs? The truth is that there is evidence of God’s presence and action all around us. But, as in Jesus’ day, God’s power manifests itself not among the high and mighty, but among the lowly and vulnerable. God’s might is felt in lives rescued from despair and hopelessness, in people transformed by grace, in the Word and the Sacraments, and in all the little miracles of everyday life. The Lord’s power and might still have the capacity to change everything.
But, if the Lord does stir things up today, so what? What will we do? How will we respond? In God stirring things up, we might have to stir ourselves in the process.. We might have to allow ourselves to be moved by God’s grace and power. We might have to change, to do things differently.
And that is a challenge we may not be prepared for. It is always more comfortable to remain as we are, hindered by our sins and basking in our excuses. They are familiar friends, more than happy to detain us, hold us back, and urge caution. The last thing most of us want is to get all stirred up, to get carried away.
How ironic then it is that we find ourselves here today, waiting patiently for Emmanuel- God with us and asking that the Lord stir up his power and come among us. Are we not asking for trouble? Should we not pray instead for something safer and more tangible like good weather on Christmas Eve or lovely presents under the tree?
In the end, we can’t help it. This is what we do. We call upon God to bear witness to what God is doing in the world.
“Are you the one?” The disciples of John asked, and Jesus tells them to go and tell John of what they have seen and heard.
On this Gaurdete Sunday, a Sunday that says Rejoice in Advent. We cannot help but to tell the stories of what God has done and what God IS doing in our lives and in this world. We worship here every Sunday rejoicing that the Lord does not fail to stir up his power and do amazing things in our lives. fact we cannot help ourselves in what we pray, for it is God’s power itself that stirs us to prayer.
So when we are asked “Did you find everything you were looking for?” I certainly hope that in addition to whatever items we have on our shopping list, we will rejoice in the holy moments we discover in which God at work. So share this season, the story of God’s unending grace and mercy at work in our world. What Jesus commanded John’s disciples, he also commands us: Go and tell others what you hear and see.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.