St. Mary's Nanoose
December 15, 2019; 3rd Sunday in Advent
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John the Baptist asks of Jesus. He is in prison and wondering. Things have not turned out the way he imagined. And he is asking the big question. Is he dedicating himself to the right person, the right kind of life? Locked away, his doubts are getting the best of him. He wants a “yes” or “no” answer. Clarity. And does Jesus give him an easy answer …. or does Jesus ask him to open his eyes, ears and heart and to decide/buy in for himself?
How often do our fears, assumptions and expectations blind us to the reality at hand? The answer right in front of us?
How many of you have heard of Jean Vanier? He is the son of the former Governor General, Georges Vanier. Just over 50 years ago, he welcomed two men with disabilities into his home and since then the organization he started, L’Arche, has created hundreds of communities around the world where people with differing abilities live together. We even have a couple on Vancouver Island that I’m aware of.
I love this story:
One day someone came to interview Jean Vanier. The two were sitting in his office in the L’Arche community where he lived. Halfway through the interview they were interrupted by a young man with an intellectual disability. Jean said, “Not now, I’m busy,” but the young man wanted a hug. So Jean gave him a hug. Mid-hug, they started to laugh. So they laughed and laughed. After a minute or two, Jean patted the young man on the back and told him it was time to go. The young man left. Still chuckling, Jean turned to the interviewer, who sat there with a long face, “It’s so tragic, isn’t it?” The interviewer had missed out on the message altogether!
Today is the third Sunday in Advent and our theme is JOY. In our gospel reading we hear about John, sitting in prison, mulling over the recent events and hearing, via the grapevine, what Jesus is up to. This is not what he was expecting the Messiah to be like. No one was. They were expecting a king, a military leader to free them from Roman rule. They were expecting someone who could make the world safe, right and just, once and for all.
So John the Baptist is sitting jail and things are not looking good for him. He sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jesus doesn’t give the “yes”/”no” answer. He never does. Listen to what he says: “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” In other words, Jesus doesn’t give the easy answer which would not, ultimately, satisfy. He tells John’s disciples to describe what they’ve witnessed: the blind receiving their sight, the lame walking again, the lepers being healed and deaf regaining their hearing, the dead being resurrected and the poor; encouraged. In creative writing, this is called “describe, don’t tell.” Give evidence and let the person reading or hearing can draw their own conclusions.
And then Jesus says, “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” The Greek word used here, translated as “offense” really means resistance, or a state of unbelief. So in essence, Jesus is saying that having witnessed the wonders of his work in the world, those who acknowledge and don’t deny what they’ve seen, will be blessed or changed by it.
When we truly acknowledge something, we accept and integrate it - we are changed. We just have to think of the Canticle of Mary which we heard read today instead of a psalm. Once Mary responds to the angel’s request whole-heartedly, she is filled with joy and spontaneously praises God. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” She accepts God’s choosing her, and she willingly engages with God in God’s plan for the world.”
When we stop taking offense at God, when we stop resisting, when name our doubt and offer it up, we are promised new life.
We often do not expect the new life to show up as it does. In fact, we rarely do. We cling to our own ideas, our own plans. But in today’s readings it becomes imminently clear that while we are looking outside, like John the Baptist, for God to make the changes we think are necessary, Jesus arrives to meet us in our own time and unique place of need. The arrival of God is internal, not external.
God arrives through an internal process of pregnancy, gestation and birth; not riding on a warhorse to lead his people to battle. This is not what we assumed would happen; this is not what we were told to expect!
But if we can keep our ears and eyes open to how God arrives in our lives, our response will be joy. We only have a couple more weeks to wait!
Because unlike John the Baptist, we know more of the story than he did. From our place in history, we know that Jesus lived, died and was resurrected. We have so much more “concrete” information to back our faith. But to what extent have we let that reality in?
Imagine it, Jesus about to be born to a woman in a small village in the east some 2000 years ago. A seemingly daily event that would have a profound impact that is still reverberating through time, beyond time, and around the world.
We too can have an impact for good. When we don’t take offense, when we allow ourselves to be blessed and behave blessed and extend blessing. What joy our lives can be filled with, even when we are confronted with challenge and difficulty. The joy of knowing we belong, we are blessed, we are beloved.
Joy is how our hearts respond to love. Joy is what draws others near and makes them curious about the gospel message. Joy is what converts hearts. And joy is contagious.
And to illustrate this, consider this true story: A minister was preaching on the topic of joy in her sermon. At one point she pointed to the congregation and said, “I formally fire each one of from your ministry positions. You are relieved of any obligation to the parish. And when I post all the positions on the hall bulletin board next week, I only want those who are passionate about contributing to apply; those who know they will feel joy when serving.”
We express our trust, or our lack of “offence” when we live, move and engage our being with joy. When we allow what motivates us to magnify the Lord. Joy is real and true response to God’s love and Jesus’ invitation.
So when you come to the table this morning, can you find joy in your heart? Receive the bread and wine and offer that joy to God in thanksgiving.