December 11, 2016

Advent 3 Year A

The time of expectation and preparation for the coming of the Messiah is drawing near. Last week you heard the story of John the Baptist storming out of the desert dressed in camel’s hair and warning us to turn our lives around: “Repent! Change your ways! The Kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Today, John puts in another appearance. When today’s story opens, John’s sitting in prison – He’s been arrested for stirring up the crowds and challenging the status quo. King Herod has him thrown in jail for criticizing him and for turning the crowds against him. So, while John’s sitting there in chains, he’s starting to hear stories about this one whom he thought might be the Messiah, a carpenter from Nazareth.

Some of Jesus’ followers both back then and now get a little uncomfortable thinking that John might have been Jesus’ teacher for a while, but some scholars believe that he was. It’s very likely that Jesus was with John for a while, learning all that he could – But then, it seems equally clear, that John and Jesus parted ways as Jesus began his own ministry with his own disciples, some of whom had also been John’s disciples. Jesus travels north – and his ministry goes off in a different direction too.

Both Jesus and John taught about the Kingdom of God or in Matthew’s gospel, the Kingdom of Heaven. John said: Get ready cause it’s coming soon – Jesus said: Start the party now cause it’s already here. And who was God inviting to come into his kingdom. For Jesus, it was the outcasts and the broken – the ones living on the edge and about to fall off – These were the ones that Jesus seemed drawn to – probably because they were the ones desperate enough to say YES to his invitation to leave their egos behind and come follow him. So Jesus didn’t travel to Jerusalem to convince the religious authorities they were wrong; instead, he carried the message out into the boondocks to all little towns of his day – to Capernaum and to Nazareth – to Siloam Springs.

Some of the people asked: Can anything good come out of Nazareth? But John thought maybe it could – He’d seen God do stranger things. So he sends some of his men to ask Jesus, “Are you the one we’ve been promised? Are you God’s Anointed? The one who’s going to come to lead our people to freedom?” But, as we said, Jesus was different from John and if he was to be the long-hoped for messiah then his was going to be a kingdom very different from what they were expecting.

We tend to think of Jesus as a miracle worker – and he was – But it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t so much remembered for his miracles as he was for whom he performed those miracles. In the Jewish culture – the culture that raised both John & Jesus – there was something called the purity code, and much of the Jewish religion was built on it. The purity code told the people who was clean and who was unclean – Who was acceptable to God and who was impure.

Back then, they thought that the sick & the lame were being punished for their sins – And the blind & the lepers were being punished for doing something even worse. The prostitutes and the tax collectors were right up there with them and collectively, they were all the scum of the earth. You couldn’t so much as touch one of them and if for some strange reason you did then the purity code gave you a whole bunch of things you had to do to make yourself clean. Getting clean often involved sacrifices of lambs and other animals and that put it outside the reach of the poor. So they were trapped both in their sickness and in their sin. They were truly the hopeless ones.

But then one day this carpenter arrived in their towns and he started turning their worlds and turning their religion totally upside down. He began to eat his meals with them, and heal them. He touched them and he began telling them what sounded like some pretty good news: He said: “You’re God’s very own kids and you’re welcome in his Kingdom!” – He said God’s kingdom was being opened up to them right here and right now – all they had to do was take a step inside and then do just one more thing: they had to welcome others into it too – They had to welcome them in just the way they were being welcomed. The more hopeless the ones outside were – the more welcome they ought to be made to feel.

And so when those messengers from John finally meet up with Jesus and ask him if he’s the one – he tells them this – He says: take a look around and see what’s happening here: the blind see again and the lame walk; lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the ones who were as good as dead are being raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them free of charge.

Truly, the age of miracles has come, Jesus said. And blessed are those who don’t take any offense at what I’m doing.

Well, then as now, there were people who took offense. The religious powers that were in control of things back then were especially offended and threatened. But the age of miracles had come – And once it came, once people came to believe it had come, and that it had come to include even the likes of them, then there was no going back to the way things were before.

That little group from backwards Galilee was now on fire – And it was a fire that would spread all around the world. The word went out to women and to lepers – to the blind and to the lame – to Samaritans and Prodigal sons. Wherever the weak, and the wounded, and the oppressed heard it – Wherever they heard God speaking directly to them – welcoming them – wanting them – the ones that nobody else wanted – it lit a fire in their hearts It did then – and it still does today.

We’re all weak and wounded – We’re all prisoners to something – All blind, and deaf, and dead to something or to someone we’re trying to keep outside our camp. Jesus said his kingdom is here and now – It’s right in front of us – Hiding in the very last place we’d ever think to look for it – It’s in our lives and in our hearts, It’s in how we love & treat ourselves and in how we love & treat one another.

Are you the one who is to come – or are we to wait for another?

Jesus says, “Go and tell what you see and hear!”       

Amen.