Third Sunday of Advent
Introduction and Call to Worship Jesus came to bring good news to the poor and all who suffer. He calls to our very hearts to prepare to greet him once more. So be open to worship the Lord, who meets us here in broken bread and wine outpoured – our salvation! Today’s Readings First Reading Isaiah 35:1-10 Isaiah speaks of a time when God will come in judgement, but will also bring great joy, healing and salvation to the people. Second Reading James 5:7-10 James urges his readers, and us, to prepare for the day when the Lord will come again, as foretold by the prophets. Gospel Matthew 11:2-11 John the Baptist, now in prison, seeks reassurance from Jesus that he is indeed God’s chosen one, Messiah. In turn, Jesus affirms John’s identity as the great prophet who came to prepare the way for Jesus himself. HOMILY “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3) “It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go! Take a look in the five-and-ten, it's glistening once again, with candy canes and silver chains that glow. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, toys in every store; but the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be on your own front door.” “It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" is one of those Christmas songs that seems to mark out early December. Written in 1951 in Canada, by Meredith Willson while she stayed at the Grand Hotel in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, it has been a popular hit for many a Crooner, form Perry Como to Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis and most recently my favourite, Michael Bublé. But the words betray something deeper – it’s beginning to look a lot like – a lot like what? Tinsel? Fairy lights – or these days bright blue LED ones which I don’t think are very beautiful at all… What does Christmas really look like to you? What are we really preparing for? What is it all about! Today’s Gospel suggests that even poor John the Baptist isn’t completely sure, but he does know it requires change! And many of us are not very good at that, so perhaps a better word is transformation! The people of Israel were also confused about this need to change, and they were not really sure what to make of Jesus when he did land on the scene. If he was the long-awaited Messiah, then he wasn’t preparing his Kingdom in the way they had expected or indeed the way they wanted! The long-promised Messiah was supposed to claim kingship over the people of Israel, overthrow the occupying Roman forces and establish God’s kingdom of peace, justice, joy and gladness in their Promised Land. Well, that is what they thought they wanted. But the scriptures speak more of a Messiah who would bring judgement. Our Lord’s words of judgement, like those of John the Baptist, are thrown straight back at the religious leaders of their day and in truth, they confront us also. John had been right in his proclamation that someone much more powerful was about to come in judgment, sorting the wheat from the chaff and condemning the sinful to destruction. And John believed that Jesus was that expected one but, far from claiming kingship in earthly signs of power and delivering the people of Israel from their captivity, Jesus is busy healing the sick, showing mercy and forgiveness to sinners, loving the untouchables and restoring the lost to their rightful places in society. What on earth is he doing? Is this what Christmas is really all about? Judgement, justice, love? What are our expectations this Advent as we look to the coming Christmas feast? Do we look forward to celebrating Christ’s birth with stories, carols and traditions? Is it beginning to look a lot like Christmas for us – what does Christmas really look like in society today, post general election? Is Christmas all about judgement, justice and love? My fear is that we have wrapped Christmas up in snow and little new-born babies all in the warm with adoring animals and wonderful visitors bearing gifts – all images we love and that inspire our carols, songs and decorations. But really, we should be preparing to celebrate something quite different. For God has chosen to act in creation in a new and fundamentally revolutionary way. The Incarnation, God with us – the very child whose birth we will recall in just two weeks’ time – is the new Adam, the Emmanuel; yes, the promised Messiah for Israel, but even more than that, God’s new relationship with each one of us which heralds judgement and justice and love. With the birth of a baby in Bethlehem comes the much longed for hope of salvation that is God with us. This is so much more than birth – this is completely new life and renewal of a long relationship that reaches back in time, before the Prophets and Patriarchs, before the first living beings represented by Adam and Eve, back to the first day of creation itself. As John describes it in the prologue to his Gospel that we read on Christmas morning: ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us.’ (John 1: 14) Perhaps today, more than ever, we need to listen to the proclamation of John the Baptist; we must prepare for the coming of one who is more powerful, more holy and more gloriously loving than we could ever truly comprehend – the new Adam. We need to look forward, mindful of the judgement to come, always seeking justice in every aspect of life and living in complete Christian love. We start this process of transformation by examining our heart intentions as Christmas approaches. Is it really beginning to look like Christmas? Our hearts know that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, the new Adam. We start our process of looking to Christmas by opening our hearts to the Judgement of the Lord, and recognising that in every aspect of our lives we must seek that justice which speaks of his Kingdom and that love which is service and sacrifice – the model Christ himself sets for those who follow him. You know, looking at Meredith’s song again, perhaps I have been a little hard on the crooners! The last verse points us in the right direction: "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas; soon the bells will start, and the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing right within your heart!" We start with our hearts – we must sing the joys of the Incarnation – our heart is where the work of preparation for Christmas really begins, deep within our very lives. Friends in faith, each soul needs to be prepared for the coming King – Emmanuel – and that requires transformation indeed. Amen. SUMMARY 1. John the Baptist, locked up in prison, asks if Jesus is the Messiah, “the one who is to come”. 2. When questioned by John’s followers Jesus offers a different set of expectations about the Messiah, centred around mercy, compassion and healing. These are values he lives out. These are about heart intentions. 3. Jesus is our salvation – the new Adam – Emmanuel; do we sing of his love in our very hearts? That is the preparation for Christmas that we need to be about.