Advent 3, B
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Mystic and monk Thomas Merton wrote, “The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.” “The beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ”
I read a story once about an old country pastor. The church had a children’s sermon, and the pastor was trying to engage the children in his talk – get them involved. “Ok kids, what animal has a bushy tail and climbs through the trees?” Silence. Nobody said anything. Small feet fidgeted and no-one would meet his eye. Pastor tries again, “a small animal. It gathers nuts and hides them for winter?” “Makes a kind of chirping noise when it is disturbed?”….again, silence. The pastor felt his collar somehow getting tighter as he waited. He felt his cheeks begin to get a little red in the prolonged silence. “Help me out kids. Somebody must know what animal I’m talking about.” Another awkward silence. A little shorter this time before Jackie takes pity on the floundering pastor and slowly raises his hand. Relieved, the pastor pounces on the opportunity. “Yes. yes. Jackie.” Jackie swallows hard. “Well Pastor, we all know it sounds like a squirrel; but since this is church, we all know it’ll turn out to be Jesus.” (story from Delmer Chilton)
This is the church. Everything we do, everything we say, everything that springs from the life of this church, from the lives of its congregants, should point to Jesus, reflect Jesus, BE Jesus for the world.
“The beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ”. John the Baptist was the beginning of the end. He was not the messiah, not the Christ. John clearly and repeatedly delineated what he was not. Not the messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet. Jesus came as God incarnate. I think John the Baptist was Advent incarnate. He was the waiting, the voice in the wilderness, the call to prepare. He knew nothing of the form or shape or nature of the Messiah he was bound to foretell. He knew no name for the one he proclaimed. Which means, writes Barbara Brown Taylor, that “until that one came, John’s life was one long Advent, a waiting in the dark for the light, a waiting without knowing for the one thing that would change everything. He could not name it, but he knew it was coming, and the knowledge alone was enough to make the wait worthwhile.” John was the messenger and it made him burn like a bonfire in the sharp icy inky blackness of a long December night.
We lit the rose candle today. The candle is not just a lovely accent piece, nor a test of acolyte knowledge base about what candles to light which weeks. We light the rose candle this third week in Advent to mark Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete in domino semper”, “Rejoice in the Lord, always.” – The traditional opening words of the Latin mass for the third week of Advent.
John is not the only one fired up this week: Listen to Isaiah: I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God. Did you hear Mary singing? My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. And we must not forget the refrain of our faithful correspondent Paul: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing.”
Fine and good for them perhaps – they were God’s chosen ones. They did not live in a world with terrorism and the IRS; they had no road rage or insurance premiums, no opioid crisis, no inkling of the damage a semi-automatic paired with fear or anger or hatred can do over the course of mere seconds. They did not yet possess the technology to destroy their own air and water and earth. They were not, of course, strangers to the same racism, hunger, inequality, or oppression of the poor, the sick, the otherwise vulnerable that afflicts our world. But they had their own issues as well.
Isaiah spoke for a people newly returned to their homeland from exile and virtual slavery in Babylon. They returned to a land which lay in ruin, destroyed by war and by neglect.
Mary was an unwed mother in a world far less forgiving of that circumstance than our own. She held audience with angels but had no guarantee those same angels would protect or feed or house her or the baby they foretold.
Paul had deserted his up-bringing for his faith. He lived in chronic pain and under constant threat of imprisonment and death.
Still they sang – not in gratitude for the things God did, the stuff God offered, the worldly blessings before them. By any worldly standard, their lives were a mess. A frightful, tangled, sticky ooey, gooey, jumbled-up mess.
Still they sang – of the joy that welled up from within, of souls filled with the spirit of God, “the spirit of the Lord God is upon me.” They sang not in reaction to God’s works, but as an expression of God’s joyful, loving, mysterious, glorious presence. Their lives became expressions of God’s love for God’s world – selfless, giving, loving – doing the very work of God.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
The Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes offers this:
The brook is not the light
but it reflects the coming dawn.
The geese are not the winter,
but it falls from their wings.
The wave is not the sea;
the note is not the song;
I am not the light
but I am made of nothing else.
If not to the light within,
bear witness to the dawn.
To the song.
The candle isn’t the sun,
but sings its song.
I don’t have to be(lieve) this,
just sing the song.
May it be so for us. May we reflect the light, sing the song of Christ within us. Amen.