Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Third Sunday in Advent, Year A

Signs of Healing in a Fractured World

Readings: Isaiah 35:1-10; Magnificat; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

My first parish was rural in many aspects when I moved there. People would give me directions to come out to their house for a visit. Drive up through Ashburn. Turn right. You'll see a small blue house on the corner. Turn there. Drive a couple of miles. You'll see an old shed. And so on. They would always end with, “You can’t miss it!” Believe me! That was not always the case.

Now we depend on GPS to get us to our destination. We think somehow because it is computerized that it cannot possibly make a mistake. We will surely find our destination if we simply put the right address into it. We trust it to take us to our destination by the best route.

Soon after I moved to Port Hope, I was meeting a friend at the train station in Cobourg. “You can’t miss it!” my friend assured me. I should just go along Division St. and follow the signs. I didn’t trust myself, so I put the address into my GPS. It took me along a side street that came out directly in front of the station – on the other side of the tracks. Indeed, I could miss it!

Living in an age of uncertainty and unrest, a time in society when we worry about the state of the world, about the ecology, about whether there truly is a future, it is easy to miss the signs of hope. We long for the coming of God’s kingdom of Shalom. We look for signs of the activity of God in our daily lives. We look for signs of healing. But somehow we are not attuned to God. We are unable to look beyond our own limitations for signs of the activity of God in history.

But take heart! For John the Baptist, the one of whom Jesus says, “among those born of women no one has arisen greater than he,” missed all the signs of Jesus' coming.

To be fair, John was in prison. What he heard about Jesus from the confines of his prison cell prompted him to ask some serious questions. He considered that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, but doubts kept creeping in. This Jesus with his urban approach, wandering through the towns and villages preaching good news to the poor, the needy, the outcast presented a totally different perspective to John. In fact, Jesus was not at all what he expected. After all, he is the wild man out in the wilderness, preaching repentance, looking for God to come and judge the people. And so he sends word through his disciples. “Are you the one, or do we wait for another?”

And Jesus sends back word, “Tell John what you hear and see.” John does not understand what is happening. After all, signs of life are difficult to see from behind prison bars. From that perspective, it is so much easier to see death, blindness, disease, and evil. John had announced what Jesus would do. He had dreamed about how God’s power would be shown. He had preached it with fervour. He had shouted at the people, “You brood of vipers!” He was waiting to see what would happen. But it wasn't what he expected. He expected to hear about the axe falling at the root of the tree, about retribution, about the overthrowing of the political powers; yet he hears nothing of the sort. Instead of the axe, there is Jesus healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, raising the dead, preaching the good news of the gospel. It was so far from John's expectations that he could not be certain.

There is a wonderful Peanuts cartoon of Lucy talking to Charlie Brown. She has convinced Schroeder that her religion is better than his.

“How did you do that?” asks Charlie.

“It was easy!” says Lucy. “I hit him over the head with my lunch pail,”

That was the problem for John the Baptist. He himself expected to be hit over the head, to be judged, to be deemed unworthy. He expected the changes in society to take place through retribution. His mission was to prepare the people for disaster.

For Jesus, the mission was quite the opposite. He preached a Gospel of love and generosity. His mission was to do as he was doing, healing the sick, making the blind see and the lame walk, raising the dead. He knew that it was never going to happen by hitting people over the head with a lunch pail or railing at them about the retribution to come. That would never bring them to their senses. That would never get them to accept God. He knew that it was through faithful people coming into relationship with a loving God that the kingdom would be ushered in.

Isaiah offers us wonderful images of healing and reconciliation. He had a balanced vision of human healing. For him it was not merely physical but was connected also to emotional well being. He trusted that God would re-create new life for God's people. Wilderness would be turned into lush farmland and a salvation road could be fashioned where one had been thought impossible. Even humanity would be remade to walk the salvation road singing all the way to Zion itself. Hope, he knew is alive even at times of apparent hopelessness.

Everything about the Christian story teaches that real wholeness, real change comes from within. Rebirth comes from within our hearts, from within our lives and families, from within our communities. That is why Jesus’ ministry worked. Those who found themselves in Jesus’ presence were reborn. They were healed. The lame walked, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, the poor heard good news. Change took place in people’s lives, and what a different kind of change it was. Humanity was getting healed.

We all need that kind of healing. It is certainly needed in First Nations communities across Canada. They are beginning to defend their identity, their nationhood, their environment. It is a challenge to every one of us, a challenge that we need to take up. They challenge us to be faithful to the treaties we have made. They challenge us to be faithful to the truth rooted in the creation covenant calling every one of us to be stewards of the land. They call us to be open to their sense of spirituality, wondering if we will accept their desire to be both First Nations and Christian. They challenge us to understand our need for strong communities where people are open to helping one another.

You have undertaken a program about the Truth and Reconciliation process. That is important work for everyone in our community. Hopefully as you undertake this learning experience, you will learn about your own need for truth telling and reconciliation. This church community is a fractured one. How badly you need that kind of healing! That is the gift of Advent. It is a wilderness time in the Christian year, a time to consider our need for repentance, a time to allow God’s healing grace to permeate our lives, a time to transform our lives. It is above all a time to prepare for Christ to be born in us.

Advent is a time of renewal and transformation in the Church year. It is a time to be spiritually prepared for Christmas. It is a time for the wilderness to be brought to new life. There are many people who need that kind of transformation in their lives. We need to go where Jesus goes. We need to do what Jesus does – serving, healing, helping, and sharing out in the world. We need to live lives of generosity and love.

Our task during this Advent season is to let Christ come more fully into our lives. It is to share with others the joy of his presence by our concern for the suffering and the poor. It is to embrace this wilderness time and use it as a time to grow spiritually so that the wilderness rejoices and blossoms. It is to embrace the good news that God’s kingdom of shalom is breaking in, that change is taking place and that humanity is getting healed. It is to live our lives in Christ. It is to see Christ in those we meet. It is to prepare the way of the Lord.

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