A sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, Isaiah 35:1-10 James 5:7-10 Matthew 11:2-11 Psalm 146:4-9
I think it is easy at this point in time to start looking ahead.
I know it is a temptation to hurry Advent along already and get to that joyous day we are building towards with Christmas. I’m already making plans for how January, February, and beyond, are going to unfold.
Perhaps we can just all agree to celebrate Christmas tomorrow, and we can all just move on with our lives and get to the next thing?
I’m sorry if that doesn’t work for you, but I’ve got only so much time to accomplish everything on my plate so hurrying Christmas on along will just help make life a little bit easier.
Anyone feeling the same way? Even a little?
I mean, I KNOW that we’re supposed to slow down, be quiet, prepare for the coming of the Lord, but I’m pretty organized so I took care of that these past two weeks already, do I really need to wait 10 more days?!
Honestly, I don’t even feel guilty about how I’m feeling, because I think that’s sorta the point of this season.
Advent is an acknowledgement that our lives are on what seems to be a never ending journey forward, barreling along, not pausing for us, not waiting for us.
Time is something that turns at the same rate, for every person, every day. Warren Buffet was quoted as saying “People are going to want your time…It’s the only thing you can’t buy. I mean, I can buy anything I want, basically, but I can’t buy time.” This is a recognition of the value that time holds in our world, and the fact that it is the only resource we essentially have no control over. It marches on at the same pace, with the same 24 hour day, every single day, of every single week, every single year of our lives.
But, in that concept of understanding time, Advent calls us to step aside, to step out of time, even if just for a moment.
While we experience each day with the same passage of time, how we choose to spend that time is up to us, and Advent tasks us with choosing a different approach than the rest of our year.
Advent tasks us with choosing a different approach than the rest of our culture in this season of festivities and events and joyous occasions. Of recognizing the joy to celebrate these events, but also to recognize when we are pushing ourselves beyond the point of enjoyment into a misplaced sense of obligation to experience it all, the great fear of missing out, played out on a societal scale.
St. Francis de Sales is attributed as saying something along these lines, “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer a day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.”
This too speaks to our understanding of time and how Advent tasks us with stepping outside of expectation, of slowing down, of taking quiet, of engaging with God here and now so that we can prepare for the arrival of God made manifest in the Christ child.
The lessons appointed for today may seem a little out of place when considering we’re only one Sunday removed from the end of Advent as we head into the season of Christmas.
But, when we realize that, most years, this Third Sunday of Advent is the point where we are ready to be done with the whole enterprise and get on with it already, it begins to make sense why these particular lessons have been assigned first, for this is Year A of our three year lectionary cycle.
Today’s lessons are an important understanding of prophets and promises.
James points us to the prophets today as he writes, “As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
“As an example of suffering and patience.”
That’s who we’re called to imitate.
That’s who we’re called to listen to, particularly in this season, particularly as they point to the reality of this child that is to come.
And, in their “example of suffering and patience,” we are pointed to a different understanding of time and place.
The prophets of our faith stood apart in their respective times.
The prophets of our faith challenged those who came to them.
The prophets of our faith did all of this through faith that God’s use of their voice and presence would be rewarded, that God’s promises would be fulfilled, that God’s anointed one would come and be a savior for us all.
John, who has been imprisoned for his prophetic voice, calls to his disciples to seek out this new Messiah and ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jesus responds, “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.”
This response is a direct reference to the prophecies of the prophets that have preceded them both.
This response is vindication for John that his suffering and patience is being rewarded, that the suffering and patience of all of the prophets is being rewarded, that even though he will die before Jesus fulfills his destiny, as the last of the prophets he knows that the one that has been promised has in fact arrived.
And in turn, we must operate from our place of knowledge. Our place of knowing how this story begins and ends. Of knowing that Christ is our Messiah, and in that knowing too that our journey of faith is influenced by those that have come before, by the prophets who have called us to recognize the signs of what is happening, what has happened in the birth and life and death of Christ.
How do we then live into this reality?
How do we embrace the legacy and example of the prophets and live into this season of preparation we call Advent?
Why can we not just jump ahead, even just a little?
A favorite reading of mine from our compline service (beginning on page 127 of your BCP), comes from 1st Peter, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.”
We resist by staying in the moment. We resist by honoring our time and space to engage with God and fully live into each expression of our faith as our respective seasons unfold.
When we stand firm in our faith, we do so because we have more than just the Gospels telling a story of one very holy man.
We have a whole tradition that points to this one holy man as someone who is different and set apart than anyone else that has ever lived.
We have a whole tradition that points to this one man as the divine Son of God, the Word made Incarnate, the Prince of Peace and King of Kings, the Christ child, born to save us all.
It might be tempting to want to rush ahead, especially as we not-so-patiently at times await the celebrations of Christmas. I certainly found myself wondering this past week about where my focus and energy needs to be in this week, in this coming week, as we await Christmas Day. How far into the future do I need to be planning out, how much of the next thing do I need to be ready for, how much sleep am I going to lose as the severe weather shelter seems destined for a holiday opening…
And, I realize now that what I really needed to be engaging in is the practice of taking time and space to simply be. To engage in the true nature of the season of Advent and enjoy the opportunity to slow down, to be quiet, to take pause because it is Advent and through this season we can connect more fully to the foundations of our faith that create space for Christ to come into our world.
It is Advent and it is through this season that we connect more fully to the foundations of our faith and create space for Christ to come into our world once more this year, and for every year to come.