Year A — The Third Sunday of Advent

Commentary for December 12, 2010

Click here for today’s readings

 Isaiah 35:1-10

“Inconceivable!” It is one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite character actors in one of my favorite movies. (Wallace Shawn playing Vizzini in The Princess Bride. ) The line comes to my mind when I read Isaiah’s inspired description of the day the desert will sing.

Blind eyes opened, deaf ears unstopped, the formerly lame leaping about as deer; it’s all a fairly incredible scene when you stop and try to visualize it. God is coming to save God’s people. Incredible, inconceivable  things will happen!

God’s Holy Way through the wilderness is a safe and inviting path. Once you’ve been found and have walked upon it, you really can’t miss it or mess it up. (NRSV: “not even fools shall go astray.”)

That’s a good thing to know. That, and “never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”

Psalm 146:5-10

“Forever God is faithful…” is the lead-in to Chris Tomlin’s excellent praise chorus, Forever. (You can listen here if you don’t know this song.) 

The Psalmist knew this to be true a long time before Chris put guitar chords to the words. God does keep faith forever (v. 6), and manages to do some other pretty cool things, as well: gives food to the hungry, justice to the oppressed, freedom to prisoners, and sight to the blind.

Luke 1:46b-55

Mary’s words upon learning that she will bear the Savior of the world give a powerful witness to just how “upside down and inside out” the world of the Messiah will be. 

Notice the series of contrasting images: Mary is lowly, but will be called blessed; proud people will be scattered; powerful rulers will be brought down; hungry people will be filled; rich people will understand what it means to be emptied.

James 5:7-10

Advent is, after all, a season for waiting. For patience. We’re kind of a hurry-up-and-get-it-now society, but James reminds us that patience is required. 

I don’t suppose that the farmers of his time had access to the modern methods of irrigation that are available today. But, even big-time agribusiness can be brought to its knees by a drought that is severe enough. (For some perspective on the problems of drought around the world, check this link.)

“The farmer waits…being patient…until the crop receives the early and the late rains.”

Matthew 11:2-11

We saw in last week’s gospel lesson that John the Baptizer was all about the action. You snooze, you lose; the proof is in the pudding; by their fruit you shall know them. That sort of thing.

When he sends disciples to ask Jesus whether or not he’s the real deal, Jesus understands and tells them to tell John what they have seen him doing.

Hmmm…when the world outside looks at the church, can they tell whether or not we’re the real deal? Or should they wait for another…someone else to show them a Savior?

by The Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“Are you the One?”

Back in the early 80’s, I spent a year doing post-M.Div. studies at the Lutheran Seminary in Columbia SC.
One Sunday I was scheduled to preach in Pomaria, SC. (It was a long time ago, maybe it was Prosperity, or Pelion. It was one of the P’s.)

If you’re not familiar with the area, the Dutch Fork is West and Northwest of Columbia. It’s where the German Lutherans settled in the 1700’s and it’s full of Lutheran churches.

I couldn’t find the town or the church. Every road had a couple of brick Lutheran Churches, but none of them was the one I was looking for. It was less than 15 minutes before the service and I still couldn’t find the church.

My moment of ultimate frustration came when the road I was on dead-ended into another road. There were two signs facing me, pointing in opposite directions, each saying “Pomaria 5 miles.”

There was a farmer in the corner of the field, working on his tractor. I rolled down the window and asked, “Does it matter which way I go to Pomaria?” He looked at me, he looked at the signs, he spat on the ground and looked back at me, “Not to me it don’t.”

One thing you can say about John, it mattered to him which way people went; he was a sign pointing to the Christ. That was his role and he knew it, and he consistently deflected attention away from himself and onto Jesus, pointing to Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed one, the Christ.

In today’s gospel lesson, we find John in jail and in doubt. He had been preaching Jesus as the Christ, but now he was wondering and questioning.
Here we read that even the one whose job it was to direct others to the Christ sometimes had a hard time believing the Good News was really true.
Perhaps John had expectations that the Christ would be more aggressive, more decisive, more “out there” as a leader, more political and “in your face.”
Perhaps, just like everyone else, John thought the Christ, the Messiah, would go upside some Roman heads, kick some heretic backsides, clean the infidels and backsliders out of Israel’s household of faith.
Or, perhaps John’s doubt was more personal than that; perhaps John thought that his cousin would take his imprisonment, well, personally.
Here he was rotting in prison. And there was Jesus, the Lamb of God, walking around free. Why don’t you get me out of here, Jesus? After all, I’m your cousin, I baptized you, I’ve been singing your praises and leading your cheering section; how can you let me rot in here?
Whatever the seed of John’s doubts and questioning, they are there and Matthew shows us Jesus answering these doubts and questions by
1) Making reference to Isaiah’s prophecies in our Old Testament reading from chapter 35, and
2) Stating in Mt. 11; verses 4-6 that he has fulfilled the promise of the Messiah, then
3) Stating in Mt, 11; 10-11, that John’s life and ministry are a fulfillment of Isaiah 35 as well, that John is “the voice crying in the wilderness.”
In short, Jesus sends John a message, “Yes, I am the Messiah, and yes you were right to say so.”
The confusion about the meaning of the coming of the Christ is not limited to John and his disciples in first century; it is very much with us in the “run-up” to Christmas, 2010.
About a month ago, Nov. 14, 2010 to be exact, I was driving out from Jackson, Mississippi to preach and install a new pastor at a small country church.
As I rode down I-20, I fiddled with the radio, not looking for anything in particular, just station surfing. Suddenly I heard someone who sounded like Anne Murray singing Chestnuts roasting on an open fire . . . .
“What!” I thought, “Why, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet and they’re playing Christmas music. Argh!”
Alas, it got worse. The announcer came on, and in a well modulated yet folksy baritone, said, 
Hi, if your house is anything like mine these days, the little ones are getting pretty excited about what’s coming. They get so excited, they forget about how to behave, so I have to remind them that Santa’s coming and if they aren’t good, they won’t get anything. 
Would you like to put some real teeth in that threat? All you have to do is call this number and for a small donation, Santa Claus will call your home and warn your children personally.”
Would you like to put some real teeth in that threat? “Oh my word, did he really say that,” I thought. Yes, he really did.
Just as the people in Jesus day were fascinated by him, but not really sure what to make of him, we modern people are fascinated by the birth of Christ. We’re just real unclear about what it means so we plunge into the traditional trappings of trees and presents and dinners and plays, hoping to find the real Jesus, the real Christmas in there somewhere.
Perhaps we can take our lead from Jesus in the Gospel Lesson; after all, he told us where he was active in the world, where we should look to find the Messiah,
“. . . 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.” (verse 5)
In an almost counter-intuitive way, it is likely that we will find the Christ when we stop searching for him for ourselves, and start serving those around us who are in need of God’s love, Christ’s love.
After we do that and begin to forget ourselves and our search for the Christ, we will look around one day and suddenly realize Christ has come to us– and in us and through us.
Amen and amen.
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3 thoughts on “Year A — The Third Sunday of Advent

  1. I too love "Inconceivable!" Delmer, did you ever make it to Pomaria? Too bad you weren't traveling on Isaiah's holy highway, where even fools can't get lost! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Year A: The Third Sunday of Advent (December 15, 2013) | The Lectionary Lab

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