Welcome to worship this day for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, landing on December 11, 2022! We are getting close to Christmas!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. As usual, it will have the order and words of the liturgy, the hymn numbers out of the ELW, the page numbers out of the Tree of Life booklet, and the full sermon. The words will also be on your screen and the sermon is included on this page below the video. You are welcome to follow along however way is most meaningful to you.
If you would like a fuller worship experience, please feel free to light a candle for the service and it can be extinguished at the end of the service along with the candles on the altar after the sending hymn. And if you’d like to participate in communion, you can do so by having something small to eat and drink nearby, and you’ll be given instruction during the service on when to consume them.
May God’s surprising love shine in your hearts and lives, this day and always!
Lord God, may your Spirit be poured out in the dry and dusty places of our lives to allow your Word to blossom in our lives, through Jesus Christ, our way through the wilderness. Amen.
So this past week was the week of Christmas concerts for our kids, and while I love our kids and all, these concerts are always sort of a pain to go to. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the work that goes into these events by the school, the teachers, the students, and the volunteers, except for maybe the sound people as more often than not the sound is just abysmal at best. But still, I’ll always support the school and our kids in their concerts, I don’t have a problem with that part of it at all. No, the real pain comes from dealing with the other parents.
Please, allow me to apologize in advance to any of you parents who might engage in these sort of activities, but to me, it’s just frustrating when people stand up during the performances regardless of where they’re sitting and without any thought to who might be sitting behind them, just so that they can get a better view. And if they’re not standing up, they’re holding their phones and in some cases full sized tablets up in the air to record their kid, which of course also blocks the view of those behind them, who are also trying to record the performance with their phones and in some cases full sized tablets. And don’t even get me started on the maniacal waving to get their children’s attention, somehow in hopes that their kid would recognise them and wave back. Here’s a protip, when 90% of the people there are waving as well, it’s not easy for kids to pick their parents out of the crowd especially when there’s a spotlight in their face. Waving harder and wilder won’t help. Calling out their name might, which happens as well, but of course that is kind of frowned upon because you know, that is disruptive.
Again, I’ll always support our kids in going to their concerts, more than once even if my schedule allows it, but most of the time I can’t ever really enjoy the show. I find myself shaking my head a lot, muttering under my breath in frustration, and making subtle hand gestures that no one can see. And the worst part of it all, is that I have to bear all of this just to watch one of our kids on stage for roughly 3-5, if even that. Most of the show features other kids that I don’t even know.
So it’d seem like the cost/benefit ratio isn’t really in my favour. In fact, I’d say that it is very much not. It’s like I’m setting myself up for disappointment every time I go to one of these things. I mean I go hoping to see our kids shine on stage, and while I might see a bit of that, mostly it’s covered up by, you know, people standing up in front of me trying to record it with their phones or in some cases full sized tablets.
I mean, is this the parent concert experience? Or should I look forward to something else?
Suddenly I can understand John the baptizer’s sentiment around Jesus while he sits there in his jail cell. Sure, John has it a lot worse right now than my kid’s concert experiences, seeing as how he’s unjustly imprisoned for making a remark against the king, so it might not seem like it relates. But that disappointment that he feels is real. We might not think so as in our hindsight Jesus is obviously the Messiah that John is wondering about. But for John? Jesus didn’t really check any of the boxes at all.
We all know what the ancient Jews were looking forward to. We know what they expected in a Messiah. We all know that their hope in political power and freedom was dashed away when this Jesus character showed up eating and drinking with the uneducated and sinful.
And while John had a different insight on the whole matter as we learned from last week, he still had doubts in his mind. Although he knew that the Messiah would be different and not what people expected, he still wondered if perhaps he had his faith in the wrong place. Although John the baptizer, one of the main characters in the biblical narrative and one of the pillars of our faith, already proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah when he baptized him, he was still left a bit… disappointed.
So he did what he could to get to the bottom of it, he sent some of his people to ask Jesus if he really was the Messiah or if he should be looking forward for another. Perhaps it was John’s passive aggressive way of saying, “get on with it, man” and nudging Jesus to rouse up some rabble already. But not just any kind of rabble, but the right kind of rabble that would… you know… maybe keep John out of incarceration?
But Jesus, in a very Jesus fashion, doesn’t exactly answer John’s question. He doesn’t say “yes I’m the Messiah” or “no, I’m not”, but instead he just tells them what they hear and see, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers and cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
Uh, ok Jesus, that’s nice. But those aren’t things that the Messiah is supposed to be doing. No, the Messiah isn’t supposed to heal, but the Messiah is supposed to save. And right now, John’s sitting in a jail cell not exactly feeling all that saved. So this answer doesn’t really give John all that much comfort as he isn’t blind, or lame, or deaf. What does he get out of all this? What is his cost/benefit ratio? What is the Messiah going to do for him?
You know as we were leaving our younger kids’ concert this past week, we realised that this was our daughter’s time performing on stage like that as the pandemic disallowed it her whole elementary school life. And when we told her, she couldn’t be more excited. She really enjoyed herself up there and it really ignited her flare for performing arts. She’s mentioned in the past that she would be interested in getting into musical theatre and this time up on stage had her revisit that idea. Whether or not something comes out of it, we’ll see, but at least she had this opportunity and it added some fullness to her life.
It made me realise that these concerts aren’t just about my needs and wants. It isn’t about my comfort levels and annoyance tolerances. It isn’t about the parents. But it’s about the kids. The kids doing something different together. The kids exploring the different aspects of their schooling. The kids working together to create something that might not be beautiful on the surface as some of them are really bad singers, but something beautiful for them as they are given a gift to be part of the whole production.
I know, this isn’t exactly salvation or the Messiah’s doing, but the point is that sometimes things come in packages that we don’t expect. Sometimes things aren’t as they seem. Sometimes, God comes to us in surprising ways to show us just how we are loved and cherished and even saved.
See John the baptizer was hoping for a different kind of salvation, a different kind of change to the world as he knew it, a different kind of Messiah. So when Jesus came as he did, John was a little taken aback with what he got. And even though John didn’t get it right away, Jesus continues to call him the greatest of these, that he is more than just a prophet, but a faithful messenger that is pleasing to God.
And this is the work of the Messiah. Not to come in flashy, pitch-perfect packages. Not to show up with a mighty hand and sharp sword. Not to defeat our enemies and be all that we had hoped the Messiah to be, but to bring people together in peace and healing. To show the world love and compassion and hope in community. To save us in ways that we perhaps didn’t even know we needed saving in. And above all, to show all people the value and worth that we share as God’s people, joint heirs in the gospel, beloved siblings saved by grace.
So in all that we do and all that we are, we can take the time to see and recognise the surprising ways that God appears in and around our lives, giving us hope and joy in the love and peace of God that we can reflect onto all people, annoying parent or not, together living in God’s kingdom.
In this season of Advent, may we continue to be filled with the hope of the Spirit, allowing us to love and be loved, saved by the grace of our benevolent and surprising God. Thanks be to God. Amen.