Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

So my wife’s cousin is visiting from Hong Kong, and much like Santa Claus, she came into town bearing gifts.  Not for my wife or me, mind you, but for our kids… of course.  This isn’t uncommon for them to get gifts from our visitors, but this time my keen sense of observation noticed that they were in Christmas wrap and so my uncanny deductive reasoning told me that these were in fact Christmas gifts, and not just the normal, “hey good to see you, strange kids that I barely ever see” gifts, and so I instructed my offspring to not rip them open right away as they normally would, but to put them under our recently erected tree and they can open them on Christmas Day.

And to that, my wife’s cousin looked at me funny and said, “don’t you mean Boxing Day?”  Then it was my turn to look at her funny and said, “noooo… I mean Christmas Day.”  And this is how I learned that apparently in Hong Kong no one opens gifts on Christmas Day but on Boxing Day, because that is when you open your “boxes”.  Yeah, I know, mind blown a little bit.

Then I had the privilege to explain to her that for us, Boxing Day used to be the day that we’d take all the stuff that you got for Christmas that you don’t want back to the store and exchange them for actual good stuff.  You know, like store credit.

And then it was her turn to have her mind blown.  She was dismayed that we strange Westerners would actually return or exchange gifts that we’ve received, rather than just appreciating the thought and perhaps re-gifting them later.  But the thing is, we want what we want, don’t we?  And to make it easier for others, we often produce these wish lists of what we want for Christmas and birthdays so we can get that “perfect gift”, or we receive gift cards that take out the guess work for those of us who don’t have lists, but still everything (except gift cards) has to come with a gift receipt.

Because in our world it seems, if what we get isn’t exactly what we want, then it goes back. Yay, Boxing Day.

I wonder if John the Baptizer, sitting there in his jail cell, wishes he had some sort of Boxing Day where he could return Messiahs and Saviours.  A quick background to this story: John had called King Herod out for being a bit on the unscrupulous side in a way kings of those days seem to do a lot, through misogyny, murder, and inter-marital relations.  Of course, King Herod being king didn’t like that so he had John thrown in jail.  John, just doing what he thought was right, was wondering when this Messiah, this One who is to come, this power baptizing with fire and the Holy Spirit that he was preparing the way for in last week’s text, was going to come and break him out of jail.  But that didn’t happen (and spoiler alert: it won’t).

I mean, where is the justice?  Where is the freedom for the captives?  Where is the militaristic might that we’ve come to expect from the one we believe to be our Saviour?  Shouldn’t we, the ones on this Messiah’s side, be busy showing our might, flexing our muscles, and putting up walls in hopes of making Israel great again?  C’mon, what kind of a Messiah are you?

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  Because really, Jesus, you aren’t what we expected, doing what we expected, or saving anyone that we expected… like say, John sitting in the slammer.  So John is having his doubts that this guy Jesus is actually the Jesus he’s been looking forward to.

And then I wonder, how often do we do that?  How often do we neglect to see Jesus because Jesus comes in a way we aren’t expecting, we aren’t wanting, or we aren’t in our own pious ways… demanding?  How often do we fail to recognise Jesus in the world because the world to us has gone so downhill and corrupt that there is no way Jesus could even be here?  How often are we unable to believe that Jesus resides in the lives of others because honestly, they’re so bad and evil that there is no way a Messiah would ever want to save them?  How often do we miss feeling Jesus in our own lives, because we don’t get exactly what we want when we want it, and it seems like we aren’t saved by anyone at all?

And when that happens, we like John, wonder if we should look for another.  Look for another to put our trust in.  Look for another source of hope and peace.  Look for another who looks like we want them to look, acts like we want them to act, and does the things we want them to do and then perhaps we can feel love and joy.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised.”  Ok, we get it, Jesus, you’re the best.  But really, as our own deductive reasoning might have told us, Jesus is providing John and others the proof that he is the Messiah, the Saviour, the One who is to come baptizing with fire and the Holy Spirit.  And, looking back on their time, we have to admit that is pretty good proof.

Except… we don’t really see that now, do we?  Unlike back in John’s time, these days we don’t really hear about miracle healings, we don’t really know people who have had disabilities magically taken away, and our dead most certainly stay dead.  So where is our proof of the Messiah?  How can we see Jesus in and around our lives?  In what can we see God acting, moving, fulfilling promises, and bringing joy?  Where are our God moments?

It’s true we don’t get too many obvious miracles like blind being able to see again, but we do see people blinded by grudges and hatred learning to forgive and reconcile.   We might not see lepers having their skin cleansed and healed, but we do see people surviving and coming out from under the burdens of their guilt and shame and welcomed back into community.  We don’t see the dead stop being dead, but we do see life emerging from what seems like death, we see light breaking through darkness, and we see joy in the midst of sorrow.

We might not see obvious miracles, but by the power of the Spirit we can see God in the world through Jesus.  We see communities flourish, we see relationships built, we see new life through the innocent birth of a child. 

See, while there are times that we might think that God isn’t active in our lives, there are times when we doubt the presence of the Spirit, there are times when we wonder if Jesus even cares about us at all, we mustn’t forget that God is with us, through the Immanuel Jesus Christ, our Messiah, by the power of the Holy Spirit, alive and moving, present and healing, active and giving us joy.

I know, we don’t always see it, and it isn’t always what we want.  But as the farmer waits patiently for the crop to grow, the farmer also remains active in looking for the signs of growth, recognising the hints of blessing, and finding the proof of life and joy.  As it is for us, in order to see Christ the in world we need to go out and actively look for Christ in the world.  And when you see something, hold onto it, cherish it, maybe even share it as a God moment.  Because the more we see Christ in the world, the more we’ll recognise Christ in the world, and the more we’ll be reminded that he indeed is the one who is to come, the one who has come, and the one who is with us now and always.

This Advent season, may we continue to look forward to seeing Christ in our midst, that we might be filled with the hope and joy in knowing that Christ our Messiah is present, has always been present, and will continue to be present even when we neglect or fail to recognise it.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.