Purple, blue or Rose. . . Does it really matter which candle you light on the Third Sunday of Advent?
And John sent word by his disciples, Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
A doctor says to the patient, I have some good news, and I have some bad news.
The patient asks, What’s the good news?
The doctor says, The good news is that the tests you took showed that you have 24 hours to live.
That’s the good news? My God, what’s the bad news? The patient asks.
And the doctor responds: The bad news is that I forgot to call you about it yesterday.
I think our appointed Gospel is a little like a good news / bad news story. We find John the Baptist in his prison cell, and he sends a delegation of his disciples to ask Jesus if he really is the one who is to come, if he is the Messiah, the Christ.
It was a yes or no question, but I ask you honestly, have you ever known Jesus to answer a yes or no question with a simple yes or no? I didn’t think so. Have you ever wondered why?
I think it’s because Jesus understood that when it comes to God’s activity in our world, it’s rarely quite that simple.
I’d like for you to notice that in typical fashion, when Jesus does answer the question, he points away from himself to God’s people and to God’s steadfast love for those very same people.
Go and tell John what you hear and see, Jesus said, 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.
Now I suspect that for John, Jesus’ answer was a little bit like the doctor telling him that he forgot to call yesterday. I doubt it was initially received as the best of news.
I saw a greeting card not too long ago that had written on the front, Sweetheart, you’re the answer to my prayers.
When the card was opened, it continued, You’re not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently, you’re the answer.
Although even I wouldn’t be stupid enough to give that card to my sweetheart, it does convey a bit of what John might have been thinking when he received Jesus’ answer to his question.
If Jesus had been the kind of Messiah that most people were praying for, then he would be able to bring about the cataclysmic end of Roman rule, and John would be as free as the rest of Israel. Blind people receiving their sight, lame people walking, cleansed lepers, deaf people able to hear, dead people raised to new life, and poor people receiving good news don’t exactly make up a formidable army!
I’m also not sure that Jesus’ answer to John is initially great news to those of us who might like a little more reassurance that our doctrinal stance on the Second Person of the Trinity is on track. It would have been sweet if Jesus would have just said “Yes” to John’s question.
But, you see, I think Jesus is telling us, it’s not just about a doctrinal stance. It’s not enough to say, Jesus is my Lord and my Savior.
It’s not enough to proclaim Jesus as the Christ, ascended into heaven sitting at the right hand of God. Jesus is saying that all of those are secondary to what goes on in the name of God. It’s not just about proclaiming Jesus to be the Christ, it’s also about being Christ for others!
Despite this, we continue our doctrinal wars in the church while people go hungry.
This week’s Gospel is taken from the 11th Chapter of Matthew. It is in the 10th Chapter of Matthew that Jesus places that tremendous trust in his followers and sends them out to do the work he would have them do. They made people whole again and proclaimed the Good News just as their master had done.
So, part of what is unspoken in Jesus’ answer is that he isn’t the only one who’s going to fulfill this lengthy job description. I believe it is in this answer to John that the notion that we are Body of Christ has its beginnings.
By now I suspect that many of you have heard of the Celtic Tradition of highlighting the Thin Places that are all around us. These are actual places in our world that give us glimpses of the Sacred and the Holy. The ocean is a place like that for me. It is a place that is chaotic and unpredictable, and at the same time it is a beautiful creative force reshaping the shoreline over time. It becomes a thin transparency through which I can see God at work.
The Judean desert was a thin place for the prophets and for Jesus. I think Jesus would like us to become “Thin People” (Atkins or Weight Watchers aside). I believe he calls us to be people through whom one can catch a glimpse of the Kingdom as it would be if God completely had God’s way. I think Jesus would like us to become transparent enough that others might see in us the love that came to the world at Christmas. Advent is a time when we re-create the drama of waiting for Christmas. We try our best to heighten the expectancy.
I have had the opportunity to attend the Solano Symphony as my son-in-Law is a member and plays percussion. I remember how the concerts began with the musicians taking their places and going through the tuning process. Every musician played their note. All the while the audience waited in expectation. Afterward, there was that usual pregnant pause in time before the actual start of the symphony. It’s traditional to wait and wait for the conductor to walk through the door onto the stage. Finally, the door opened, but it wasn’t the conductor. It was the concert master who would lead the orchestra in one final tuning.
If you stop and think about it, this is not a bad metaphor for the role assigned to John the Baptist in the Gospels. In any event, everyone is still waiting with heightened excitement. The door opens again. Is this the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
This time it IS the conductor. He takes a bow, and the symphony begins.
My dear friends in Christ, we are in the middle of that pregnant pause called Advent; we are in a state of heightened expectation. Jesus will come at Christmas, but now the analogy breaks down. Jesus does not want an audience. Jesus would not have us wait as spectators. Jesus would want us to make music also.
Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
I believe Jesus wants John’s question to be addressed to ALL OF US, all the Body of Christ! There are people out there who will never be able to see the love of God unless they see it through you. There are people out there who are bent over and crippled because of damaged self-esteem and a feeling of the lack of self-worth. They will never be able to straighten up unless you help them. There are people out there who will never be able to hear that God forgives and accepts them unless they hear it from you. There are people out there who are like the walking dead, sealed in tombs of misery. They might never be raised up to new life unless you extend your hand and your heart. And there are the poor and the poor in spirit, and you might bear the only good news they’ll ever know.
This week is the Third Sunday of Advent, the only Sunday when we light the Rose candle amid the deep blue hue on the Advent wreath. We light it to remind us that even though we wait we know Joy. Advent is a thin time that prepares us to become thin people.
Jesus will come at Christmas, that you can count on. He will embody the “thinness” that allows humanity to meet divinity. But it isn’t just about Jesus, is it? We are the body of Christ. Are we willing to become a transparency that will help others to meet the Holy?
Jesus is our conductor. But a conductor needs an orchestra. We are called to be part of the symphony that brings joy to people’s lives.
I’d like to close with a story about a young boy named Bobby who needed a thin person in his life one Christmas:
Bobby was getting cold sitting out in his back yard in the snow. The thin sneakers he wore had a few holes in them, and they did a rather poor job of keeping out the cold. He couldn’t come up with an idea for a Christmas gift for his mother, and even if he did come up with an idea, he didn’t have any money to spend.
All three of his sisters had already made beautiful gifts for their mother, but Bobby wasn’t any good at making things. It was Christmas Eve, and he had nothing to give to mom. Quite discouraged, Bobby kicked the snow and started to walk down the street to where all the shops and stores were.
He walked from shop to shop, and he looked into every decorated window, but everything seemed so beautiful and so very out of reach. It was starting to get dark, and Bobby reluctantly turned to walk home when suddenly his eyes caught the glimmer of the setting sun’s rays reflecting from something along the curb. He reached down and discovered a shiny dime. Never had he felt so wealthy as he did at that moment.
As he held his newfound treasure, a warmth spread through his entire body, and he walked into the first store he saw. His excitement quickly turned cold when the salesperson told him that he could not buy anything with only a dime.
With his head held low, he began walking down the street toward home.
Just then, he saw a flower shop and he went inside to wait in the long line.
When the shop owner finally asked if he could help the young boy held out his hand and presented his shiny round dime and asked if he could buy just one flower for his mother’s Christmas Gift. The shop owner looked at Bobby and his ten-cent offering. Then he put his hand on Bobby’s shoulder and said to him,
You just wait here, and I’ll see what I can do for you.
As Bobby waited, he looked at the beautiful flowers and even though he was a boy, he could see why mothers liked flowers.
The sound of the shop door closing as the last customer left, jolted Bobby back to reality just as the shop owner came out and moved to the counter. There, before Bobby’s now huge eyes, lay twelve long stem red roses with leaves of green and tiny white flowers all tied together with a big silver bow.
His heart sank as the owner picked them up and placed them into a long white box.
That will be ten cents, young man, and the shop owner reached out his hand. Slowly, Bobby moved his hand to give the man his dime. Could this really be true? No one else would give him anything for his dime.
Sensing the boy’s reluctance, the shop owner added, I just happened to have some roses on sale for ten cents a dozen. Would you like them?
This time Bobby did not hesitate, and when the man placed the long box into his hands, he knew it was true. As he walked toward the door to the shop, almost in a daze, he turned to the smiling shopkeeper, looked at him for a minute, and asked with his slightly trembling voice. Mister? Are you Jesus?
It could just as easily be asked of any of us:
Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
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