Sermon Archives

Sunday, December 11, 2016
The 3rd Sunday of Advent (Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Are You Ready

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We all know something about yearning and expectation; and we all know something of the emotions that well up within us in that liminal spaces between what is and what will be.  The anticipation that fills us as we wait for something new, not always a tangible object, but some “thing” that captures our imagination and dreams.  At such times our emotions may range from giddy excitement to focused exhilaration to quiet patience.

Accompanying the most profound of these hopes, as we occupy that place of expectation and anticipation, that as we inhabit that place between the present and the future, between our desire and its fulfillment, we often, if not invariably, harbor a quiet, yet profound, fear.  Fear that it will not be.  Fear that I, or we, will not live up to expectation.  Fear that one’s longing will go unfulfilled.  Fear that whatever we anticipate will somehow disappoint.

And in such moments of honesty, we can begin to grasp the desperation of John’s words to Jesus:  “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

John had given the entirety of his life to the proclamation of the Christ.   He had worn camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey for “the cause.”  He had seen the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descend on this man from Nazareth.  He had heard the heavens themselves proclaim — “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  He had gone so far as to preach sin and repentance to the masses, had dared to call the Sadducees and Pharisees a “brood of vipers,” and even condemned the marriage of Herod and Herodias – all in the anticipation of a new Kingdom come. 

With the exception of his own life, John had given everything to be “the one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” and now, imprisoned by the same Herod whom he had rebuked, John is about to give up his very life as well.

There in that liminal space between his proclamation and the realization of the Kingdom of God, John puts words to his fear – are you the one?  Has this life of sacrifice, my life, been worth it?  Was my life’s purpose justified?  Is this man, my own kin, truly the Messiah?

On the surface of things, the world of first century Palestine did not look like the Kingdom of God as 1st century Jews, or even early Christians, expected it look.  The Kingdom John had so boldly proclaimed must have seemed more distant than ever before:  the rich still recline at lavish meals; religious elite still held the people captive; the poor still longed for the bread of life.

Jesus’ two-fold response, however, is significant.  To begin, Jesus points out to John’s disciples what he sees:  “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.”  Jesus describes a new world that has begun to take share around him, the foundations of which are completely contrary to the world into which he was born.  His is a kingdom that promises all that this world yearns for – healing, reunion, peace – but in ways this world cannot accept. 

In this new kingdom, in this new community, greatness is found in service, power in sacrifice, life in death.  In this new kingdom, our purpose is not to be served by others, but to serve; our bonds are not merely with those who share our blood or even our faith and values, but to all who share our need – for food, for shelter, for healing, for liberation, and for peace.  In this new kingdom, even our oldest castes are upturned – the poor sit at banquets with the rich and sinners dine beside the devout.

In his response to his own disciples, however, Jesus completes the exchange.  In the simple question that Jesus poses about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” he names the question that his own disciples, and you and I today, must ask about him – what did you expect to see?  What do you expect of the Messiah, the Christ?

This is, in fact, a fundamental question of the Gospel.  Depending on your expectations you may be sorely disappointed.  By the time of Jesus’ baptism, the Jewish community had a rather clear expectation of the Messiah as a warrior King, in the line of David who would restore the political monarchy in Jerusalem.  With Jesus there would be no new throne, no lavish robes, no powerful army, and no rich feasts.  For those, like Judas, who held such an expectation, Jesus would not only be a disappointment, but an utter failure. 

Just as Jesus asked the crowds what they expected to find, so we must ask ourselves.  What do we expect of Jesus?  What do we expect of God?  What do we expect of the Messiah, the Christ as he breaks into the darkness of our lives today?

If we expect the Christ to usher in a world of wealth and ease.  We will be sorely mistaken.

If we expect God magically to solve the myriad problems not only of personal lives – our broken relationships, our personal anxieties, and our suffocating activity – no such salvation will come.  Neither will such a heroic savior appear to solve the age old problems of our society and world – poverty and hunger and dislocation and war.

And if we expect the coming Christ simply to confirm our faith, our values, and our lives as they are today – we will be disappointed.

For the kingdom that Christ proclaimed, and the community he built, looks rather different than the world about us and quite different from the lives we often live.  This new kingdom will demand of us the same repentance and amendment of life that it required of the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus day.  It will ask of us the same sacrifice and the same generosity that God himself poured out for Judas.

The signs are certainly there that a new Kingdom has begun to form, but they are not the signs we so often expect of a kingdom. 

Yes, his coming is certain, but in ways we do not expect and by means we may not even want. 

As the incarnation approaches again, we must ask two questions:  what do we expect?  And, are you ready?