12 December/Advent 3A - Matthew 11:2-11
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Church, Baltimore, Maryland
Stir Up Thy Power, O Lord, and With Great Might Come Among Us
These are the opening words of the Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent every year. It is my favorite collect. I imagine God at one end of a long wooden-handled spoon stirring a pot of soup filled with lots of good things, keeping things moving, keeping things from settling, burning or sticking to the bottom of the pot, making sure the mix is just right to produce a nourishing, tasty and filling treat. I imagine we are the soup and all the various ingredients, each of which is necessary for the soup to both taste good and be good for us.
But I always end up asking myself: do we really want God to come among us with great might to stir things up? No one much seems to like change and things being stirred up. And yet, here we are praying for God to come with “great might” to stir things up! Sounds like change to me.
Both John and Jesus understand the consequences of doing God’s stirring up with great might: John is in prison and Jesus is on his way to the cross. Both were advocates for change. Both ended up in prison and executed.
So here we find John in prison sending his disciples to ask the important question: Are you the one we have been waiting for? Are you really the one that last week I said I was not worthy to carry your sandals? Because I have to say, I did not expect to end up in prison if you were the one who was coming to liberate us from this occupation. This was not what I expected at all. Are you the one, or is there another yet to come?
John seems to have lost hope. Now at some time or another we all know what it is like to lose hope – to hope for something that never seems to come. We wait and wait and wait and wait, but it never seems to come. Or, when it finally arrives it is not at all what we imagined, expected or wanted it to be.
When we remember times and feelings like these we begin to get some idea what John the Baptizer is feeling as he languishes in Herod’s prison by the Dead Sea. He was waiting and hoping for something really really big to stir up this world and set it right-side up again.
Now it would be easy to judge John harshly for not trusting immediately that Jesus is the One. And many of us have to admit, we look around at the world today and wonder, like John, just what has the arrival of God in Christ done for us and for the whole world?
Some days it is easy to lose hope. Especially if we are looking for a wholesale rearrangement of the way things are. Especially if we are hoping for the peoples of the world who seem hopelessly divided and hindered by sins somehow to be speedily reconciled, friendly and cooperative rather than divided, hateful and competitive.
Jesus responds to John and to us, “Go and tell what you see and hear….the blind receive sight, the deaf hear, lepers are cleansed and the dead are raised up!” Feeding, healing and reaching out to others, the real "others" - widows, orphans, resident aliens, the unclean, the blind and even the dead. This is Biblical language to describe people who have been written off or left out of the life of the community and for a variety of reasons thought to be unclean and dangerous to be around.
Go and tell what you see and hear. And what the people around Jesus see and hear are little victories over death, blindness, and loneliness. People are being restored to real life in real community. Barriers are being torn down. Prejudices are being dropped. Those who have been excluded for their entire lives are now included in the life of God’s people.
Think of the struggles just in our life time - for women, for civil rights, for gay and lesbian people, for immigrants. We live in a land where nearly all of us are immigrants - resident aliens. Few of us have ancestors who were here when the Euro-invasion began.
The big picture, suggests Jesus, is changing one life at a time. The work is not done. Jesus is still recruiting more and more people to do the work that he does and, as he promises, we will doc even greater things than he does! He wants us to be a part of his work! He needs us. God needs us. The world needs us.
And to join with Jesus we need not to lose hope. We need to be a people of hope.
So for just a moment fill in this sentence, “As Christmas approaches I hope for …..”
Maybe write it down, keep it in your purse or pocket. Hold onto your hope. Every time you touch that piece of paper, pray for your hope. Or, just think about it. Let your hope carry you through the rest of Advent and Christmas and throughout the year ahead.
Maybe we can begin to feel what John was feeling and what Jesus was feeling, hoping that God would do something, anything, even some small thing, toward setting the world right-side up again!
Jesus calls us to a life of hope and commitment: hope in what the joy of his birth really means and commitment to the ministries of feeding, healing and reaching out to others with him, through him and for him. Jesus tells us: do not lose hope. I am with you always to the end of the age. Go and tell what you see and hear! Amen.