December 11, 2016
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
The Rev. J.D. McQueen, II - All Saints’ Episcopal Church, San Diego, CA
“Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us”
Advent is a season of waiting, but also of urgency – we’re watching, yes, but we’re on the edge of our seats, and today’s collect reminds us why.
- “Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us,” calling God to action
- We’re “sorely hindered by our sins…speedily help and deliver us,” don’t wait, the situation is desperate
- We see that sense of urgency for God to act in today’s gospel lesson too.
From prison, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
- Jesus replies by listing the things he’d been doing, irrefutable proof that yes, he is the Messiah.
- But of course the passage begins with Matthew telling us that hearing about these deeds is the reason they’ve come with questions.
- So what’s going on here? A couple of things.
The first is unmet expectations.
- Here you have Jesus pointing to miraculous healings and restoration, and they’re saying, “OK, but what about the winnowing fork, the axe, and the unquenchable fire? John said there’d be lots of fire.”
- They’d probably gotten so caught up in the popular idea of a holy conqueror that they were oblivious to the fulfilment of the actual messianic prophecies.
Along with those expectations is the sentiment, “What are you waiting for? If you’re the Christ, do something!”
- Now, when Jesus hears this same thing on the cross, he doesn’t respond because it’s from those who’ve already decided that he’s not the Messiah.
- This is much closer to another scene from the gospels – where the man whose son is possessed by a demon cries out in desperation, “I believe, help my unbelief!”
John’s disciples aren’t quite convinced that Jesus is the Messiah yet, but they want him to be – they want him to be because if he is, there’s hope.
- There’s hope for their dear friend John, who they know will almost certainly be killed in prison otherwise.
- There’s hope for their people who are oppressed and occupied by the Romans.
Just like in the collect, John’s disciples are crying out for action in a desperate situation,
and I think Jesus is speaking to all of that when he affirms that yes, he is the Messiah, and adds, “And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”
- He’s speaking to their unmet expectations, saying, “I’m the Messiah. Stop looking for the one you want to follow; the one who says what you want to hear and leads you where you want to go.”
- He’s speaking to their desperation, saying, “Don’t lose hope when I’m not who you expect me to be. Don’t be discouraged when I don’t do what you want me to do, when you want me to do it.”
Advent reminds us that when the circumstances of our lives leave us crying out for God, he’s already come – he is with us and that he is at work in our lives.
- God wants us to know that and be comforted, which we see in Jesus’ response, and that can happen when we establish our hearts, as James tells us in his letter.
When we establish our hearts, we’re making them firm by rooting them in Jesus, with the intention that they’ll remain that way forever.
- For this to happen, we have to take time every day to fix our hearts and minds on Jesus by reading and praying the gospels.
- When we do this, we give him the space to show us what he’s doing and strengthen our trust in him.
If you don’t have that much time or you’re not sure how to pray, don’t worry – just do it.
- The most important part isn’t the amount of time or the quality of your prayer – it’s the “every day,” because that means we’re choosing God, even when we don’t feel like it.
- If we just show up and make the effort to be with Jesus – even if we’d rather be doing something else or we’re fighting distraction that whole time – he will bless us.
How incredible is it that the Word of God, who created the universe, became man, and died for us, loves us so much that if we just show up he’ll take care of the rest?
- Jesus is so generous that he’ll deepen our prayer and, when our desire for him grows, he’ll provide more opportunities for us to meet him.
- So don’t wait to establish your heart – the coming of the Lord is at hand, and he’s longing to fill it.