In last week’s readings we were shocked by the surprising suddenness of God’s acts.
—“Comfort o’ Comfort my people” in the 40th chapter of Isaiah was birthed out of 39 chapters of affliction and a history of exile.
—“The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” appeared out of nowhere, Rome and Herod didn’t see it coming.
Not so this week.
—This week we read from exiles returned from Babylon, picking up the pieces—the survivors of a nuclear exchange peeking their noses out of a bomb-shelter—so to speak.
—This week we find a more reflective John the Baptist, giving an extended description of his place in the world in light of the Gospel.
In some ways, the pressure is off—the surprising salvation of God is known, and therefore it needs to be wrestled with. Good News has been done, and continues to be done, to God’s people, so there is more space to unpack and figure out what salvation is. Last week was all about unexpected salvation, this week is about reflective expectation.
Or to get a little more with the season—get a little more Advent-y, what we have before us today are examples of Active Waiting… Waiting to see God’s ongoing salvation roll out before us, but not in a passive way, not plunked down in a lawn chair doing nothing, but instead doing so in a faithful manner—Actively Waiting for Gospel.
Let us pray.
In many ways, the situations of the returned exiles, and the community of John, and the situation of the Thessalonians, mirror our own
—most of us here, by now, know that, “Old Old story of Jesus and his Love,”
we trust that God is for us,
that we are saved from the powers of Sin, Death, and the Devil through Christ’s Life, Death, and Resurrection.
We know these things—but we don’t always know what to do with them.
Now, the returned exiles responded to God’s saving act, using Cyrus the Great to destroy the Babylonian Empire and free them from captivity—by rebuilding their community on the twin pillars of Righteousness and Praise.
Isaiah calls on those who return to the Land to do justice to their neighbors—to act justly in society,
and to honor God with their gladness, and full praise, and joy at the saving acts of God…
interestingly, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between righteousness and praise—they are quite intertwined:
—God’s covenant is honored when robbery and wrongdoing is replaced with Justice.
—The rejuvenation of those broken by oppression displays the glory of God.
Righteousness and praise…
XThis is why we worship together regularly (for example right now this Sunday, as well as on Wednesdays throughout Advent) and this is also why, at all levels of the Church, we engage with issues of the Public Good (from our collections of food and gifts to our Synod’s commitment to Public Housing to our National Church’s Malaria Campaign).
John, quite likely the last of the canonical Gospels written, has had some time to process the meaning of the Good News, and so John the Baptist reflects a way in which that community, and our own, can live in light of Jesus’ coming to us and for us. John is a witness, John testifies to Jesus.
In three of the four first verse we read today, he is described as testifying or giving testimony. His whole interaction with the Levites is one long public pointing to Jesus.
John witnesses publically, grounded in a clear, but humble, certainty about Jesus.
In some ways, this is the opposite of how we Christians often witness—we prefer to do so privately, in an unclear manner, and inserting a lot of ourselves into the testimony that is supposed to be about Jesus.
XThis is why we encourage Bible Study and Confirmation (so we can be clear about the faith), why we occasionally do Blessing Blurbs (so we can practice pointing to Jesus instead of ourselves), and why we meet in a public place for Pub Theology (again, public proclamation)—all this, to practice Testifying like John.
Finally, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is the earliest Christian writing we have—so it clearly points to an early time when Christians are working out how one responds to God’s saving act through Jesus Christ, even as they await his further saving acts. They are working out how to actively wait for Gospel.
Paul calls on the community to Rejoice—to borrow from CS Lewis, joy is not just being happy, but is living in the ongoing joy of the Gospel, because Christ already acted for us.
Paul calls on the community to pray—…our beloved wants to hear from us—isn’t that amazing!
Paul calls on the community to give thanks—we have breath in our bodies, shoes on our feet, and people to love—Thank God!
Paul calls on the community to listen for the Spirit speaking through our fellow Christians (2x)—what are we saying to one another as a community?
He is also calling us to sift through those things:
--calling us to find what’s bad and keep away from it, and find what’s good and treasure it.
XThis is why we encourage one another to pray both together and on our own,
why we continue to tell that old old story,
why the Eucharist—communion, is a Thanksgiving Meal,
and why we insist on an educated and trained clergy who have been taught many tools with which to discern God acting in the community,
but also that’s why each Christian has the responsibility of their own conscience—it is yours as much as mine, to discern the Spirit’s calling here in this place.
Righteousness toward everyone and honor to God.
Clear, humble, public pointing to Jesus.
Prayer, ongoing joy, thanksgiving, and discernment.
These are all marks of an Advent faith
—these are all ways we may faithfully, and actively, wait for the One who is faithful and will come, our Lord Jesus Christ. A+A