12.10.2008

3rd Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5: 16 - 24
John 1: 6 - 8, 19 - 28

"Who are you?"

Don't we, as humans, project our own hopes, dreams and desires upon the future? Don't we shape our hopes based on where we are and where we've been more often than on what is realistic and possible? Our expectations of a newly elected president come to mind. Can this man possibly accomplish all that we have hoped he will accomplish?

Christmas is coming. Those words probably inspire some reaction from you, don't they? What is the reaction? What hope does it create for you ("that it will blow quickly by" is an acceptable answer)? It might be a mix of joy and anxiety and anticipation. Or it might be a dull ache or dread.

In this, the third week of Advent, we are still waiting. There are no bucolic readings about shepherds yet. There are no stories of scandal, surprise and recovery about a young, engaged couple. No. We are still waiting – and for what we do not know. But our hopes are shaped by our lives and our experience, just like Israel's were.

This week's readings focus largely on that for which the people awaited thousands of years ago. Their waiting was grounded in their past and their present experience. In truth they did not know what they waited for…but they waited for a Messiah, a Savior, one who would set things right somehow. The prophet writing in Isaiah is remembering the good that God has done and anticipating the arrival of the next great thing. Well, not just "the next" great thing – The Thing. The Messiah. You have to sort of wade into this reading and pay attention to who is speaking at any given time. Sometimes it's God, sometimes it's the prophet. The prophet sees a future of comfort for those who mourn, righteousness and praise springing up before all the nations.

The Psalmist also writes in an "in between" time. The praise psalm remembers better days and petitions for a return of comfort, fortune and rejoicing.

Let's read a little out of sequence and head to the passage from John. Did you realize that so much of advent focused on John the Baptist? On the voice of one crying out in the wilderness? So, here we have John, called up by the Levites and Priests to be grilled with a really profound question – Who are you? John precedes in telling them who he is not – The Messiah. And he Is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. So one question that comes to mind is how the priests grilling John perceived their own circumstances. Were they in the wilderness from which John called? If so or if not, how did that shape what they expected from the Messiah whom John announced?

In Paul's letter to the church at Thessalonica, he provides some very practical advise for waiting. These early churches, like the ancient Israelites, had experienced some amazing things. Many in these churches would have known by first-hand account about the teaching, crucifixion and resurrection of this teacher, man and Messiah--Jesus Christ. And deep in their heritage, they would have been watching for One who would restore righteousness. A society oppressed by Rome and her foreign ways, these early followers were hopeful for liberation, and their hope rested in the return of the Messiah. They waited for Jesus to walk back into their midst and right the toppled reality in which they lived. Paul's advice would be hard to swallow – rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks for everything that comes your way, regardless of how you perceive it as good or bad. Waiting will make you ready for what comes next.

We each have our own vision of what a coming Messiah might mean to us today. But is our vision what matters? Do we share vision with others?

But really, do we know what we wait for?

Will we know?

"Who" are you waiting for?

O come, Thou Root of Jesse's tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.
Rejoice, rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel.

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