10 December 2022
A sermon outline with USPG for
Advent III, 11 December 2022
The Third Sunday of Advent
11 December 2022
Reading: Matthew 11: 2-11 (NRSVA):
2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 4 Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’
The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally associated with Saint John the Baptist. The third, pink candle on the Advent Wreath on the Third Sunday of Advent, is a reminder of Saint John the Baptist.
We already meet Saint John the Baptist by the banks of the River Jordan in the Gospel reading on the previous Sunday, the Second Sunday of Advent (Matthew 3: 1- 12, 4 December 2022).
Do you remember how John is taken aback when he first meets Christ? He comes across full of confidence and certainty. He announces the coming of Christ with great hope and expectation, bursting with energy. Yet, when Christ comes to him to be baptised, is there even a hint that John is a little reluctant to baptise him?
Have you ever wondered why John does not know who Jesus is? After all, not only has he baptised him and hailed him, he is also his cousin. Considering how close to one another their mothers Mary and Elizabeth have been in life, why would John now not know who Jesus is?
Is this not the same John who leapt with joy in his mother’s womb when he realised he was in the presence of the unborn Christ (see Luke 1: 44)?
Have you ever wondered why John was not one of the disciples?
We move on quite a bit by the Third Sunday of Advent. It is a week later in the lectionary readings, but many months after Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan. Saint John the Baptist has preached himself hoarse about looking forward to one who is more powerful than he is. However, since then Jesus has not been wielding power in the way John may have hoped for or may have been expecting.
Now, as John waits in prison, about to lose his head, perhaps he wonders whether he made a mistake in thinking Jesus is the Messiah. Perhaps he is feeling discouraged and doubtful as he sends messengers to ask Jesus: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’
The simple answer for Christ might have been: ‘Yes.’
Instead, however, Christ points Saint John, the messengers and the crowd to the signs of the Kingdom. Echoing the Prophet Isaiah, he points out that the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, the dead are raised and the poor receive good news.
These are not mere claims, but incontrovertible proof. Yet, apparently, there are some who take offence at Christ. Perhaps even Saint John the Baptist has been disappointed because his expectations of the Messiah are not being fulfilled by Christ. He is hardly the king of the coming kingdom – after all, he is not ‘dressed in soft robes’. The term ‘soft robes,’ used twice in verse 8, has resonances of self-indulgence.
Is this what gives rise to Saint John’s doubts?
Is Jesus the one John the Baptist has been expecting?
When Saint John’s disciples return and tell him what Christ has told them, does Saint John conclude that Jesus is not the Messiah he has been waiting for?
Does John think he has been waiting for the wrong kind of Messiah?
How often have you waited expectantly – for Christmas, for a Christmas present, for a new job, for a major family milestone, for the move to a new home – only to face the realisation that your expectation has been unfulfilled? Another pair of socks? The wrong job with low pay, high expectations and bad conditions? The family milestone overturned by a family crisis? The new home has horrid neighbours?
Picture Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, lonely and empty by the side of the road, waiting forever for Godot who never arrives.
Picture Eleanor Rigby in the lyrics of the Beatles, waiting alone at the window, alone among the lonely people.
Picture Saint John the Baptist, waiting in prison where he has been sent by Herod the Great.
Now he is tired. He has grown discouraged. He is questioning. He is like us. He jumps to hope with power and aggressiveness. But later, when he is dispirited, he has questions, and he has doubts. Is Jesus really the Christ he is looking for?
What happened to the John the Baptist who said Jesus would chop down fruitless trees and throw chaff into the fire?
Has Jesus spent his ministry throwing chaff into the fire?
No, it seems not. And so Saint John sends his own disciples, to ask: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another?’
Has Jesus come in a way that John does not expect? Should he and his disciples look for another?
Christ refers to the signs of the Kingdom in Isaiah. Saint John is ‘more than a prophet’, for he heralds the dawn of the final era of history and he announces the coming of the Kingdom. Now Christ validates John’s ministry as a true prophet, quoting a prophecy from Malachi in verse 10, and then equating John’s ministry with the returned Elijah.
Christ criticises the people who went out to see John the Baptist in the wilderness with the wrong expectations. What they actually saw was greater than they could ever imagine. Yet even John, great as he is, only points the way to an even greater reality. Now the fulfilment of this promise is beginning to be worked out and to be seen.
When we are disappointed, when our expectations of the coming Kingdom are dashed, is it because we are not looking for the signs of the Kingdom that are all around us?
The gift of Christ is precious, but does it always meet our expectations?
Are we prepared to look around and notice new places where Jesus is working and living? If you were told: ‘Go and tell John what you see and hear,’ where would you say you see and hear Christ at work today?
I am not blind, lame, leprous, deaf, poor, downtrodden, dead … surely? Am I?
Christ comes in humility for the humble. He comes for those who do not have it all worked out for themselves. These, he tells John’s messengers, of his Advent, of the coming Kingdom of Justice and Mercy.
We have an opportunity to echo that yes this Advent.
As a sign, as a symbol, of how we can join in that ‘Yes,’ USPG and the Church of North India says ‘Yes’ to the people who are being helped through this year’s Advent and Christmas appeal.
The people who cross borders, who face a dangerous ‘No’ along the way, who face violence and the dangers of human trafficking, who find themselves in the wilderness or are imprisoned in their present circumstances and living conditions, are finding comfort in the words and actions of those who are working in this project through the Diocese of Durgapur and USPG.
This is one way we can share our hope for, our belief in , the coming Christ and the coming Christmas this Advent. In saying supporting to this work, we became signs of our faith, or hope, in the promises of the coming kingdom and the promises of Christ’s coming in Advent.
Praying in Advent with Lichfield Cathedral
and USPG: Saturday 10 December 2022
We are half-way through Advent today, having come to the end of the second week of Advent. Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.
During Advent, I am reflecting in these ways:
1, The reading suggested in the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced by Lichfield Cathedral this year;
2, praying with the Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’
Matthew 17: 10-13 (NRSVA):
10 And the disciples asked him, ‘Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ 11 He replied, ‘Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; 12 but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.
The Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar:
Reflect on how the Christian faith was born amidst hesitancy and confusion, of how things half-understood at the time were reframed. Pray for grace to work through the questions and find true wisdom.
O Lord, raise up, we pray, your power
and come among us,
and with great might succour us;
that whereas, through our sins and wickedness
we are grievously hindered
in running the race that is set before us,
your bountiful grace and mercy
may speedily help and deliver us;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honour and glory, now and for ever.
Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that, when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him
with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Almighty God, purify our hearts and minds,
that when your Son Jesus Christ comes again
as judge and saviour
we may be ready to receive him,
who is our Lord and our God.
Collect on the Eve of Advent 3:
O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight; for you are alive and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
USPG Prayer Diary:
The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week has been ‘Human Rights in the Philippines.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with an excerpt from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) human rights report by USPG.
The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:
Let us give thanks for the courage and commitment of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in its challenge of oppression. May we also pursue justice for the poor and marginalised.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
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