The Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

For December 11, 2016

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A brand new book by Delmer Chilton, with John Fairless, The Gospel According to Aunt Mildred: Stories of Family and Faith  has already hit the shelf ( to purchase the paperback, click here)  Kindle version is also available!

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

When I was a student in a United Methodist seminary a story went the rounds about a video tape that everyone had heard about but no one had actually seen – instead of an urban legend it was an ecclesiastical one I suppose. The story was about the summer Lay Pastor’s School. Many small United Methodist churches are served by second career ministers, many of whom are bi-vocational. Instead of going to seminary, they commit to several years of attending Pastor’s School, while also pastoring a church and many times holding down a secular job. I have known many lay pastors over the years and most of them are some of the best parish ministers I know. A few others – not so much.

The story is about a man who new to the Methodist Church, who had been raised in a Pentecostal tradition and brought much of that ethos and sensibility with him to Pastor’s School. The tape was of his first sermon in preaching class. He said, “I got here today to preach and this preaching teaching fellow asked me ‘Where is your manuscript?’ and I says, I says, ‘I ain’t got no manuscript.’ So he says, ‘Well, where is your outline?’ And I says, I says, ‘I ain’t got no outline.’ And he says, ‘Well have you got your sermon memorized?’ And I said, “How could I memorize it if God ain’t told me it yet?’

He looked at me kind of dumb-founded so I says, ‘Look here, I just flip open the Bible and put down my finger and then God gives me utterance on whatever verse my finger lands on.’ Now this here preaching teaching fellow stared at me a minute, then he says, ‘Well, what do you do if you run out of things to say?’ And I says ‘Well now, I just reach back and grab me a handful of Isaiah and go on!’”

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus reaches back and grabs a handful of Isaiah in order to answer John’s question about his identity. John was in jail and in doubt. Some time back John had pointed to Jesus as THE ONE, the Messiah, the Savior of the world – but now, well, maybe not so much.

Maybe John, like so many others, had been expecting something else. Maybe John, like so many others, thought the Messiah should be going up side some Roman heads; ought to be kicking some heathen backside; cleaning the infidels and backsliders out of Israel. Maybe that was what John was talking about when he was talking about the Kingdom of God! So, when he heard about Jesus’ teaching and preaching tour and when what he was hearing didn’t match up with what he expected – he asked the question, “Are you the Messiah?”

And Jesus reaches back and grabs a handful of Isaiah. He uses the prophet to show his listener, that he is indeed THE ONE! “Go 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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:4-6)

I do not know if that answer satisfied John the Baptist but I do know that it often fails to satisfy us, the church. For if we believe that these words summarize what it means for Jesus to be the Christ, would this not be what it means for us to be Christ-ians – little Christs to one another and the world? Much too often we center our thoughts on what Christ has done and con do for us, and think too little about what Christ has called us to do for others.

Advent invites us to prepare our hearts and our lives to receive the Christ. Advent invites us to also be messengers of the Good News that the Holy One is coming. Advent invites us to prepare the way so that the world will be ready to receive the Christ into their lives. Advent invites us to reach back and grab ourselves a handful of Isaiah – not so much with our lips but with our lives. Advent invites us to show the whole world who Christ is by loving them – really, really, loving them – not in words only but in deeds. Advent invites us to be about the holy work of helping the blind to receive their sight, the lame to walk, the lepers to be cleansed, the deaf to hear, yes, even the dead to rise and the poor to hear the Good News, the very, very Good news that God is love and God is near.

Amen and amen.

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