Isaiah 35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God who will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense and will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Matthew 11:2-11 (NRSV)
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “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.”
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
We are almost there. Ten days before Christmas – nine to Christmas Eve – Candlelight service at 7 pm. I think I hear a sigh of relief from some of you. And for others – I can clearly feel a sense of panic. This is our second Christmas with Ezra who just celebrated her first birthday. It is my second Christmas with you as well as your interim minister. Oh – the places we’ve been!
Today’s scripture on this third Sunday in Advent reveals how the New Testament writer clearly connects the Hebrew reading with the New Testament reading and this reminds us that Jesus’ knowledge of Holy Scripture ran deep in his Jewish roots. According to the New Testament reading, Jesus also expected John the Baptist, who had the same background, to be able to understand the message that he was sending om response to John’s uncertainty. “Are you the one?” John asks. Who Are You?
Who Are You is a song by the band, The Who. Who are you? Isn’t that something we all want to know about another – just who are you. The history of this song is interesting as it is based on a day in the life of Pete Townshend. “It began with a very long meeting in NYC dealing with royalties for his songs. After this excruciating meeting he received a large check for royalties, left and went to a bar and got completely drunk. Pete left that bar and passed out in a doorway in Soho where a policeman recognized him, woke him up and told him, ‘You can go sleep at home tonight (instead of a jail cell), if you can get up and walk away.’ Pete’s response: ‘Who the ____ are you? And then he wrote this song. Inspiration can be found just about anywhere!
The song has also became the theme song for the CSI TV series and its spinoffs. This music is currently being used on the tv show, The Mask, where well-knows contestants wear masks and as the show goes on, a reveal is made about who the singers are as they leave the show.
The chorus of this song asks: Well, who are you? (Who are you?) I really want to know (Who are you?) Tell me, who are you? (Who are you?) ‘Cause I really want to know (Who are you?). And isn’t it true that there are so many times and places in life we ask that question of strangers as well as those we think we know well. Who are you? Are you really who you say you are? And John the Baptist is no different with the questions he asks about Jesus.
Joe Pennell, Jr. writes the following in a sermon he preached in his congregation: “Faith, not doubt, is the great word of the church. As I stand here you look so proper, so content, so believing. You seem to be so certain, so full of faith, and so free of doubt. (But who are you?)
He wrote, I have a suspicion that the way you look is not the way you are. Beneath the skins of many of you there is planted the seed of honest doubt. Perhaps you do not share these feelings with anyone; but your doubts are there, and they are real. Your worship does not express your doubts, uncertainties, and skepticism. In facing this situation, all of us at times cry out with the one in the Gospel, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.’ This capacity to doubt can often lead to some of life’s most profound questions.
Such is the case with John the Baptizer. His questions – ‘are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ (an honest question)– grew out not of his uncertainty, but out of his doubt. John the Baptizer had heard about the words and deeds of Jesus, but what he had heard did not square with his expectation of the Messiah.”
So he asks, ‘are you he who is to come? Or shall we look for another?’ “After all, Jesus was born not to royalty, but to a peasant woman. He functioned not as a military ruler, but as a servant. He came not as a judge, but as a forgiving redeemer. He did not bring heavenly condemnation; he brought divine love. He did not associate with the establishment [of his day], but he went from village to village associating with the rubbish heap of humanity. He spent his time and energy with the least and the lost. He was most concerned with the powerless: the blind and the lame, the lepers and the deaf, and the poor and the out-cast. And Jesus dared to teach that the weak occupied the most important place in the Kingdom of God. No wonder he got into trouble!
Pennell believes that John the Baptist became confused about the way in which Jesus acted out his messiahship. He had doubts about the validity of his contemporary, Jesus of Nazareth. His skepticism caused him to send one of his followers to Jesus with the question: ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another? – the true Messiah” (Joe Pennell Jr., From Anticipation to Transfiguration, CSS Pub. Co; sermons.com)
‘Who are you?’ John asks. ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ All good questions like John’s, and our own, can push us into greater depths of understanding and faith.
Who are you? An Amish man from Northern Indiana was asked by some tourists if he was a Christian and the Amish man pointed down the road. He said, ‘You see that house? That’s my next-door neighbor’s house. You’ll have to ask him if I’m a Christian.”(Ryan Ahlgrim; asermonforeverysunday.com)
So I ask, “Who are you?” Once again we are confronted by what it means to be Christian – a follower of the incarnate one. I have met many people over the last 33 plus years in ministry who think that if they are followers of Jesus then life will somehow be smoother or easier, or at least all fit together in some cosmic plan and find themselves so disappointed because this savior or this religion did not live up to their expectations. Life has a way of revealing to us that life itself can be difficult whether we are a follower or not. There were never any guarantees from Jesus or anyone else that life would be trouble free or easy – so why be a Christian? That’s another good question for us to ponder.
During this Advent season, what are your questions? Fears? Doubts? Who are you? The cost and joy of discipleship confronts us especially during this advent time.
I think Kathryn Matthews may shed some light for us on this path today. we are not remembering a little baby in a manger [separated by so much time and distance] but for what we look forward to: the coming of God’s healing reign in all its fullness of justice and peace and healing in this world, not just a pie-in-the-sky, faraway heaven, after death, but real peace and healing right here, in this time a place. We are not the first to long for this peace, justice and healing. (Kathryn Matthews, uccsermonseeds.com)
Can we look at our anticipation and expectations more closely, and dig deeper into our hopes-the same hopes that scan the centuries from Isaiah, to John the Baptist, to you and me?
From Richard Rohr and the Center of Action and Contemplation, we receive this simple, complex, profound and hopeful; message: “We’re midway through Advent, the new year is getting closer, and many people feel overwhelmed by the frantic pace of the holiday season and its many obligations. Amid all the activity, we invite you to slow down and consider how to be more present to God who comes hidden in the ordinary moments of [our lives].
When we speak of Advent or preparing for Christmas, we’re not talking about waiting for a little baby to be born. We’re in fact welcoming the universal, cosmic Christ – the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and history,” which is reflected [this way] in Franciscan spirituality: ‘Creation is the first and probably final Bible, Incarnation is already Redemption, Christmas is already Easter, and Jesus is already Christ.’
“The loving message of the Divine Incarnation is bigger than just one [person – Jesus]. It is the ultimate character of all reality, including each one of us in community as the ongoing Body of Christ.” As Rohr noted in his book, The Universal Christ: “Incarnation is the oldest Christian story. Through Christ, God is pouring God’s self into all creation. To be Christian, then, is to see Christ in everything.” And I would add, everyone.
Who are you? Here is a glimpse of what I see. You are the beloved – child of God – Creator, Mother, Father. You are the light in the darkness. You are human kindness that brings comfort by your presence. You are the truth-tellers and truth seekers. You are the fierce earth lovers who show a better way. You are the justice seekers in an unjust and unequal world. You are the peace makers by your actions and your words and your prayers. You are the healers in this wounded world. You are the holders of hope when things seem hopeless. You are the builders of trust in a broken world. You are the bringers of joy just by being you. Each of you brings a different light into the world and each and every illumination is needed to show the way.
May God bless each of us as we move, slog, dance, grump, love, laugh, cry, question through this remaining Advent time that brings us closer of God and understanding God’s abiding love for each of us. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2019