Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, December 11, 2022

YEAR A 2022 advent 3

Advent 3, 2022
Isaiah 35:1-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11
Psalm 146:4-9

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jesus asked the crowd, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?”  That question cuts to the heart of the readings today.  Essentially, what were you expecting?  It fits perfectly with our journey through this Advent season.  We’re all waiting; but what are we waiting for?  Put another way, depending on our expectations, we might end up mightily disappointed.  But we’ll get to that.

The first reading, from the prophet Isaiah is just beautiful.  I love this reading so much!  Even though it’s from a completely different part of Isaiah, it fits perfectly with last week’s reading, where the lion and the lamb will lie down together and a little child shall lead them.  And in this section today, we hear all about the setting that will one day be.  The desert shall rejoice and blossom.  Water in the wilderness, burning sands will become pools.  A hostile environment shall become lush with greenery and growth.  

And the best part of is right toward the beginning.  Like the crocus, the desert shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.  That phrase, “like the crocus” really speaks to me, because where we live now, every spring those little guys just pop up all over our yard.  At first it’s just a few, and we treat them like little sacred beings.  Be careful not to step on those scarce fragile beautiful signs of springtime and renewal.  And then there’s a few more, and a few more.  And then one day, we come outside and they are everywhere!  Rejoicing and laughing and singing.  To say that the desert shall be like the crocus, well, finally there’s a metaphor that I get!

And speaking of metaphors I finally get, another line I love in this Isaiah reading is this:  A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way . . . and no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.  Not even fools can miss it.  Not even fools can get lost.  As my wife well knows, after all those years of touring, I can easily find my way around Omaha, and Des Moines, and a hundred other random cities in America without a map.  But ask me how to get from our house to somewhere five miles away, and I’m hopeless.  But one day, there shall be a highway where no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.  Excellent!

But back to flowers.  The reading we heard from James offers up this analogy about expectations:  "The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.”  Last month, a certain lady I know planted 1,350 tulip bulbs in our backyard—perhaps trying to upstage those crocuses.  She put those things in the ground, and now she waits with patience for their arrival.  Sure, it’d be great to have tulips popping up out of the ground during the bleak midwinter, but that’s not how flowers work.  You plant the seeds and bulbs, and then you wait.  You let them do the thing that makes them into what they are meant to be.  And, hopefully, what you get is exactly what you were expecting.  She waits with expectation.

And Jesus asked the crowd, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?”  What were you expecting?  And his follow up questions tell you what they were expecting.  A frail reed.  Someone dressed in soft robes.  A prophet.  That’s what they were expecting.  And what did they get?  Well, you remember, we heard it last week.  A socialist who wears camel fur, eats grasshoppers, and yells at respectable people.  Not what they were expecting, to put it mildly.

But before that part, John the Baptist sends his disciples to talk to Jesus, to ask Jesus a straight-up question:  Are you the one we are expecting, or are we to wait for another?  It’s a bold question, but quite simple.  Either Jesus is the One they’ve been waiting for, or they will be waiting for another.  Simple as that.  Jesus could have told John’s disciples, yes or no.  A simple up-or-down vote, as the politicians like to say.  I mean, it really is a yes or no question.  Just answer the question Jesus; it’s just one question.

But Jesus gives them a completely different kind of answer.  He says, “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.”  That’s his answer to the yes or no question.  And why does he say all that, of all things?  

Well, remember what Isaiah says in the first reading today?  When the Day of the Lord comes, “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.”

John was expecting a vengeful warrior on horseback who would overthrow the Romans while kicking things and taking names.  John was tough.  John expected the Messiah to be tough.  John was expecting the arrival of the ultimate fighting machine.  John is not expecting the arrival of  . . . a baby.

 But Mary is.  Mary is expecting, and in fact, there’s probably a whole lot of stress in your life right now because Mary is expecting.  And so are we.  We’re expecting a baby.  Kind of.  I mean, we all know that Christmas is about a baby being born.  But it’s very easy to let that thought go on December 26th and start wondering, like John did, when we’re going to get the vengeful warrior on horseback who will overthrow the Romans while kicking things and taking names.  

We look around and we don’t see God crushing our enemies underfoot (whatever that might mean), and we don’t see God fixing all the problems in our lives (whatever they might be).  Something is not living up to our expectations here.

We understand that a baby is coming in a couple weeks, sure, sure.  But I suspect that around mid-January or so, we’re all going to be a bit like John the Baptist.  We’ll look out from inside the contained space of our lives, and we’ll want to send our friends to ask Jesus that question:  Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?  Because right now, we’re not seeing a whole lot of kicking things and taking names on our behalf.  Of course, we don’t dare say that.  Aloud.  No, we just kind of press on, secretly waiting for the God who is going to clear the threshing floor and trample our problems underfoot.  But inside ourselves, at some point or another, we’re each going to be asking: Is this the Savior who is to come, or should I wait for another?  What are we expecting to see?

And what does Jesus say to us?  Pray harder?  Be stronger?  Straighten up and fly right?  No.  Jesus sends the messengers back to us to proclaim the gospel:  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 if that is true . . . if that is true, then there is hope for me and you.

Because if Jesus can heal the sick and cure the lame, then Jesus can heal us too.  If Jesus can rise from the dead, then Jesus can raise you from your grave as well.  We may not be literally blind, or lame, or deaf, but we have something like those things going on in our lives.  Something that needs the healing touch of Jesus.

We have our expectations.  But we never really know what to expect.  We have an idea of how we want God to show up.  Maybe in a big red suit, rewarding the good people, and punishing the bad ones.  That’s what we expect, but that’s not what we get . . . thank God.  Because God does not save you because you are good.  And God will never reject you because you are bad.  In all cases, God saves because of Jesus, whether the things you do are naughty or nice.  

And speaking of expectations . . . In a little while, you will come up to this altar, expecting to get some bread and wine.  And you’ll get those, when you hold out your hands.  But you’ll also get much more than that.  Because God is always giving us more than we expect.  More than we can think to ask.  God is always giving life, and forgiveness, and a chance to start again.  No matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been.  Jesus is the one who is to come.  You do not need to wait for another.

Go and tell the world 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.  No matter what we might have been expecting, Jesus is coming to save us.


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