Advent III. Gaudette Sunday
“Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” Matt 4:2
In the tradition of the Church calendar, the 3rd Sunday in Advent is often called Rose Sunday, because it represents a lightening of the dark violet of the rest of the penitential season of Advent.
This lightening has two points of significance. One is that of a greater light shining through the violet to reveal the rose tint signifying the coming of the Light, the other is a lightening of the mood, for which reason the Church has traditionally ascribed this Sunday to the quality of joy.
The rose color expresses the joy of recognition, the recognition of the One who shines from beyond the veil of violet, who is the Messenger of the Light. This is the message that John the Baptist was sending.
Today’s text is a story about Jesus and John the Baptist. John the Baptist is near the end of his life. He wants to know if his life work is being fulfilled. He sent those who lived with him to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come?” Jesus responds by saying to them, “go and tell him what you hear and see.”
Jesus told John’s disciples, “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 the good news brought to them, and blessed is anyone who takes no offense in me.”
Some would say that all change is regarded as a loss. All pastors have known people fearful of making the most basic and obvious of decisions because they don’t want to lose any of their options. All physicians know of people who don’t want to be well because wellness would change the boundaries of their lives and relationships.
Jesus went around changing things. At first glance we ask, “How can anyone be upset by blind people being given sight, or deaf people being able to hear, or lepers cleansed, or the lame walk, or the dead raised, or the poor hearing good news? How can this be regarded as troubling?” But think about it. It changes the status quo.
We live in the bloodiest century in human history. Millions have been killed in war, famine, and persecution. In the last century, we coined the word genocide. We went to a lot of trouble and expense to kill each other. The images that Jesus uses are not only events, but they are also metaphors.
And the notion of good news for the poor is really offensive to some of us. In fact, some of us are angry with the poor because they are poor. Human kind is generally uncomfortable with change. We go to great lengths to avoid change. We are especially distressed with change when it means a change in us.
Jesus said, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” The word blessed could appropriately be translated as happy. Listen to this. “Happy is anyone who takes no offense in me.” The changes that Jesus shows to John’s disciples are changes that lead to sight, understanding, walking-movement, hearing-knowledge, life-new, life- cleansing – wellness.
People are moved from despair to hope, understanding, movement, knowledge, new life, wellness and hope. These are powerful, positive forces. These are forces that generate positive, God-ward change. When we are able to embrace them, we are happy. When we fear them, we are offended by those who bring them. And Jesus was offensive enough to be killed.
John was offensive enough to be killed, too. Jesus very plainly tells why when he names John the Baptist as a prophet. In fact, Jesus identifies John the Baptist as the greatest of the prophets. Prophets weren’t necessarily predictors of the future. What they did was examine the conduct of the people or the government and, based on the examination, describe alternatives.
The basis for the examination was the will and law of God. A prophet might say, “If you, the king, continue idolatry, excessive taxation, and persist in stealing land from the poor. Then the dogs will lick up your blood in the streets. If on the other hand, you repent, turn to true worship, stop the excessive taxation, and return what you have stolen, the kingdom will be secure for your heirs.”
The message John proclaimed was simple, “repent, he is coming.” Jesus is the one who came.
He changed everything. His resurrection is the ultimate change.
Death no longer has the final say over our lives and us. The fact that death no longer has the last word is hard for us. Nothing can happen that will change anything. Despair is perfect stability. We humans crave stability. And Death is as permanent as you can get.
But that craving is a consequence of our fears and our sins. Be your own personal prophet. Examine yourself by God’s will and God’s law. Claim and accept that God loves you and seeks to give you a new life, a life that is happy with change because you are not offended by Jesus.
Are you the One, Jesus? Can you speak to us behind our thick prison walls this Christmas? Can you give strength to our feet? Give sight to our eyes? Give hope to our hearts? Give wholeness to our brokenness? Give life to our death?
And, Jesus might answer, “Are YOU the one? I live in you. You are my body in today’s world. It is through you that I can touch people’s hearts, bring wholeness to their brokenness, and set them free to love. With your hands I can reach out to the lonely. With your words I can comfort the grieving. With your voice I can proclaim good news to the poor.”
Jesus asks you today, “Are you the one, or am I to wait for another?”