Wait, Wait, Please Tell Me

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Advent 3, Year A, Matthew 11: 2-11

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
In the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Good morning. It sure is great to be here today. We hosted Bishop Hougland on Thursday as St. Philip’s celebrated a new reality.

It was nice to formally enter into this ministry with you folks and to have the Bishop bless us all.

I won’t forget the time.

Our thanks to all who helped make the arrangements and to show hospitality to the Bishop and his wife and to our visitors from the community and around the Diocese.

When I was a child. Maybe around 9 years old, my parents put me through something traumatic.

For the first time in my life, my parents left all four of us at home to go on a trip. They went to the Big Apple, New York City, with my aunt and uncle. They were gone a whole week. I can’t remember who they left us with, but I’m confident it was NOT somebody who could handle four children of our kind.

I remember my parents telling me that if I was “good” that I would get a gift.
First of all, no-one had ever called me “good.”

Secondly, I was smart enough to know that if:

  1.  my behavior was being evaluated and that
  2. the item in question was based on performance, then that item was no gift.

 

Performance bonus maybe… Bribe probably… but not a gift…
And I did it… I worked my butt off to do what was asked.

To avoid my siblings and thereby avoid fighting. I gladly put on my itchy wool pants for church.

With a smile on my face, I asked my oldest sister to help make sure my tie was on right.
I fed and walked the dog.
I made my bed.
I ate my vegetables. Even the lima beans.

If anybody deserved a “New York City” performance bonus… it was this kid.

I wondered what kinds of exotic things came from New York City.

Something expensive I thought.

Probably not practical… anything from New York City would be the opposite of practical for a 9-year-old who lived in a small town of about 7,000.
I knew my dad well enough to know that he would never get me a Yankees hat.
But that’s about all I knew about New York.
Finally, the big day arrived. My folks returned with smiles on their faces.
I was able to hold it together for a while before I demanded to know what the gift was.
My sisters were older so they weren’t really even very interested. But then my brother was up. His gift was in a small package.
Very small.

“Wow!” I thought… what could it be?

Oh my goodness, my parents bought him a real jack knife.

Oh my goodness… It was legit sharp.

“Amazing,” I thought with my mouth wide open.

My parents had lost their minds. With this kind of irresponsibility, God only knew what they got me!

Could it be a hatchet? A full-size ax? A chainsaw? My first gun?

I took the box, opened it and….

and…

and…

Are you kidding me?

I had held it together long enough…

“You got Josh that sweet yellow jack-knife, and got me a stupid t-shirt from the zoo??!!!”

What a joke.

What an injustice… I would never trust a grown up again…

To say the least, I was disappointed.

I had expected something great and instead received, in my estimation, the worst gift ever known to man…

This was the beginning of my life of really- really bad behavior.

And speaking of expectation… Advent is a great time of expectation.
Of waiting. Of listening.

It is a time for silent and holy nights.

As the darkness becomes less dark and less hopeless.

The pink candle in the advent wreath reminds us that darkness is almost over.

God is near.

The Isaiah text from today accentuates that light, doesn’t it?
——————————————————-

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.
——————————————-

It sounds pretty nice actually.

Our waiting is over. The desert is beginning to blossom and life is going to spring forth from an uninhabitable place. A miracle really. It certainly is a time for Joy.
But then the Gospel reading for today. Wow! It will take some work to find joy in it.
You should know that I love John, the Baptizer.

He was born into a family of priests. His Father was a prominent figure in the religious life of the Jewish people.

But John was called to something a bit different. John was called to live the difficult life of being a prophet.

Rejecting the life and benefits of being a priest, he lived in the wilderness and survived off of the land.

He abandoned the comfort and prestige and lived a life of asceticism… and trouble.

Last week, we heard this prophet call us to repentance.

We heard him call humanity to live a life of repentance to make way for the Incarnation. He was uncompromising, passionate, and powerful.

A man who stuck up for the little guy. Who preached justice and against the powers who oppressed.

But now, much later in the gospel of Matthew, we have a different John.

Now we hear from a John who is imprisoned and silenced.

He sends word to Jesus through his own disciples.

But John sends word to Jesus… you can almost hear the desperation in his question.

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

“Well, Jesus… now is the time to make this whole thing happen. I’m in prison… alone… suffering in the name of God. It is time to overpower the oppressors, Jesus. Time to put the ax to the root and chase these Roman scoundrels out of here. My sword is yours Jesus but you need to bust me out of here.”

Matthew doesn’t give any inner feelings or emotions of Jesus.

But I’m guessing he is feeling very alone.

Jesus knows the score. He knows that he is a great disappointment to all.
He knows that the plan is not and cannot be a physical revolt.

His Kingdom is a Kingdom of love not a Kingdom of violence.

A kingdom of healing, feeding, and comforting.

Not a Kingdom of death and strife and the suffering of the enemy.

Jesus knew that this Kingdom would disappoint and not meet the expectations even of his most faithful followers… even John the Baptist… the preparer of the way.

It is scandalous. It is disappointing… John’s expectations for justice cannot be met because he cannot fully understand the Kingdom.
And, I’m sorry to say, that neither can we.

Because our sense of justice is biased.
It is subjective.
It is competitive.

We can sense what is not right with the world.

Just like John, we know when there is an injustice. We know when oppression is present.

We see the marginalized… We see the weak and the widow and the orphan. We see the hungry and the refugee… We see the inequity.

We may even see how we are complicit… But we don’t have any solutions. Not solutions that will serve ALL of humanity… Not that we can ALL agree upon…
So, we wait… we still wait…. we wait in stillness.

For a God who has more in store for us than we can imagine…
For a God whose goodness is better than we can even comprehend.
We know it’s dark. We may or may not be able to tell that the light is coming…

That day is coming…

We wait,

we wait,

we wait…

for Immanuel. God with us.
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”