John is a voice calling in the desert wasteland, make ready the highway: the people of God are returning from darkness, into the light of a new day, led by the one who himself is the way and the light and the home-safe harbor they seek.
John, holy human - in the line of the prophets the last and greatest - was sent by God to bear witness to the Word, and to point to the Light.
In our gospel reading today, we see clearly that he is a witness - Greek: a martyr - who testifies to the Word made flesh and come among us. He calls us to testify to the promise of God made real in human form.
"I saw the Light" - as Hank Williams sang - no more darkness, no more night. No more sorrow, no more strife - because, praise the Lord, the Lord is come, to set his people free.
John is a sign, pointing - this is the Way, the Truth, the Life - follow him and believe.
Jesus had a surprise for the people in the synagogue at Capernaum. As he read the words of Isaiah they were fulfilled. The savior, the Messiah, the king - was present - is present, among us here and now.
Salvation is a quality of life here and now: the kingdom of God is all ready here in the hope we have in the Advent of Christ the King. It is Jesus who is coming. All hopes and fears are met in him - and the long vigil of waiting and watching for his arrival is almost over.
Salvation is a quality of life here and now: good news, healing, liberty, release, comfort; this is the jubilee year of restoration and abundance. God's deliverance is real here and now.
The world as it should be, what we have come to call God's kingdom, the reign of God, is already among us.
Our mission to the oppressed, the heart-broken, captives and prisoners, those in mourning, those faint of heart, is to be a sign of God's blessing. We witness to his presence among us with our lives: living as a people of Good News, of freedom proclaimed and lived, of justice and mercy made real. We are the people who sing of God's grace poured forth in overflowing measure, of comfort and joy.
Rejoice - rejoice with real joy, bought indeed with tears of sorrow for what is lost, hard-won Advent joy, not the quick prosperity flash of consumer culture. Sow in sorrow, but reap in joy. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing: always give thanks: the one who calls you is faithful. The one who calls you is faithful.
Christ in you, the hope of glory; faith in the love of God shown in Jesus' word and deed.
He makes all things new.
Let us pray that he gives us grace to see the present through his eyes.
May we rejoice in the Lord always, confident in our hope in Christ.
May we pray without ceasing, steadfast in our faith in Christ.
May we give thanks in all things, celebrating the love shown in Christ.
May we answer the call of God to be his faithful people, knowing that the One who calls us is faithful.
It is time for rejoicing - for ashes to be traded for garlands, for mourning to give way to gladness, for faint spirits to turn to songs of praise.
His people are oaks of righteousness.
However small the acorn, the seedling, the sapling tree, it is tenacious, durable & hearty.
When my father and I and a neighbor pulled down an old blue spruce that was keeling over, we thought we had a bare patch there where it grew; but no, there was a sapling growing, an oak, before you knew it. You could still see the acorn, but it was already tenacious, durable, and hearty. That is how faith grows. It surprises us; it holds fast.
The apostle Paul makes clear to us what we can do, knowing we have a loving God, who loves justice and peace and mercy: rejoice, pray, and give thanks.
It's like this:
A fisherman went down to the Sea of Galilee carrying his net. When he got to the beach, he cast it in. As he drew it back to shore, he found he'd caught a lot of little fish - no use to him - and one good big one. He kept the one good big fish and let the small fry go.
(Gospel of Thomas, 8, para.)
That is what the kingdom of heaven is like; that's what Paul's instructions mean, when he says, do not quench the Spirit or despise the words of Prophets, but still, test everything, and then keep what is good and let go what is evil.
Keep an eye on what the Lord is doing, and may the God of peace sanctify us, keep us sound and blameless.
Think of it: John says, no, I am not the Messiah; no, I am not the Prophet; I am a voice, crying out to you, prepare the way of the Lord - for among you stands, already, the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And so, today, we let the celebration peek in - we get a foretaste of the great feast to come -
knowing full well that it is already but not yet the time of the coming of the Lord: and we celebrate his imminent arrival, and his ongoing presence among us.
This can be a bit disturbing, as our friend Ebenezer finds out. He has been warned, by Marley's Ghost, to anticipate the visits of three Spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past has already come, and horrified Scrooge with his visions...
"Spirit! Remove me from this place."
"I told you these were shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "That they are what they are, do not blame me!"
"Remove me!" Scrooge exclaimed. "I cannot bear it! Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!"
As he struggled with the Spirit he was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom. He had barely time to reel to bed before he sank into a heavy sleep.
Scrooge awoke in his bedroom. There was no doubt about that. But it and his own adjoining sitting room, into which he shuffled in his slippers, attracted by a great light there, had undergone a surprising transformation.
The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove. The leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that petrifaction of a hearth had never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or for many and many a winter season gone.
Heaped upon the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and great bowls of punch. In easy state upon this couch there sat a Giant glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and who raised it high to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.
"Come in, -- come in! And know me better, man! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Look upon me! You have never seen the like of me before!"
"Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these late years?" pursued the Phantom.
"I don't think I have, I am afraid I have not. Have you had many brothers, Spirit?"
"More than eighteen hundred."
"A tremendous family to provide for! Spirit, conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have ought to teach me, let me profit by it."
"Touch my robe!"
Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.
The Cractchit Home
In came little Bob, the father, with at least three feet of comforter, exclusive of the fringe, hanging down before him; and his threadbare clothes darned up and brushed, to look seasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!
..."And how did little Tim behave?" asked Mrs. Cratchit.
"As good as gold," said Bob, "and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember, upon Christmas day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see."
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovelful of chestnuts on the fire.
Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass, -- two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.
These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and crackled noisily. Then Bob proposed: --
"A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!"
Which all the family re-echoed.
"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
The blessing of God be upon you today and forever. AMEN.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, text for public reading http://charlesdickenspage.com/carol-dickens_reading_text.html
December 14th, 2008:
The Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28