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Sermon Transcript Advent 3 12.11.22

We are called to reflect the sacred. We are called to notice the holy all around us. Last week we read from Isaiah, a shoot shall come from the stump of Jesse. A sign of hope to a people of exile. The choir today sang a hymn based on Isaiah’s promise that the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light!

These promises of re:creation and renewal are present in our readings from the New Testament as well. In Luke 1, after the annunciation, when Mary says yes to God's plan of incarnation, she immediately goes to see Elizabeth, her relative, in her 6 month of her own miraculous pregnancy. Mary goes to visit to stay with her. Their greeting is one of the most joyful passages in scripture. In Luke 1, the child in Elizabeth's womb leaps for joy at Mary's greeting. Elizabeth knows what is happening with Mary. They both experienced a profound promise and gift and challenge. Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren, bears John, the one who prepare the way and proclaim the Messiah,

And Mary, a teen, unwed, takes great risks in her culture. To carry this child; to say yes to God, Zechariah and Joseph, in the stories that Luke and Matthew tell, also take risks. They believe Elizabeth and Mary. They changed their lives to accommodate what God is doing - to participate in what God is doing.

Luke 1, after the annunciation, after the child leaps for joy, and after Mary greets Elizabeth, she sings a song. The Magnificat, and it is not a quiet song. It is powerful. It is bold. Mary knows what God is doing. Mary proclaims in awe and wonder.

The Magnificat, the Song of Mary, talks of the hungry being full, the rich being sent away empty! Of kingdoms being toppled! It is a bold series of claims – especially for an unwed mother… on the outskirts of Empire.

Did you notice Mary proclaims these things in present tense? God has done these things. With the child my womb, God has already accomplished these things. The promises of the prophets even now are fulfilled.

These words of Luke 1 have been outlawed in many countries. Under British rule, in India, it was illegal to recite the Magnificat. Think about that!

In Argentina, mothers of Plaza the Mayo protesting that their children had been disappeared during the dirty wars 1976 to 1983 - displayed posters with the words of the Magnificat. And the military formed to outlaw any public display that carried the words of Mary.

This song is dangerous. Advent is dangerous – because lived properly, Advent proclaims the coming of Christ – and that our systems of injustice must fall.

In 1933, Dietrich Bonhofer before he was arrested and executed by the Nazis - gave an Advent sermon, one of his last. He said “the song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever seen. This Mary who we sometimes see in paintings. This song has none, the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God…” and a call to participate in true justice.

These words, we sometimes gloss over but they are words of radical transformation and renewal. A new creation here in this world. Not this world's destruction – believers whisked away somewhere else - but justice here.

Our text from Isaiah proclaims such renewal. The wilderness becomes full of life - the desert flows with living water. Last week, we talked of the lion lying down with the ewe. Bears and cattle together. These images call us to radically change how we see life and many, many of these images, both the Old Testament and the New are written in the visions and writings of Isaiah. Isaiah is one of the longest books in the Old Testament. It is one of the most frequently cited and most frequently copied. You’ve probably heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls – discovered in the late 1940’s and excavated primarily in the 1950s - a shepherd boy looking for a sheep threw a rock and heard a vase break and climbed into a cave and discovered a hidden treasure trove of scrolls. Many of them are quite mundane. They are literally shopping lists and inventories - but there's also a Covenant way of life for the community… and there are copies of the scriptures. Nearly the entire Old Testament in multiple copies. From different communities by different hands. And the most common scroll is that of Isaiah. This text and its revolutionary promise of wholeness and renewal anchored ancient communities.

A town, known as Qumran, has been excavated nearby and well, while nothing is quite certain. The majority of scholars believe this was one of the outposts of the Essene community of Jews. The Essenes were a Jewish sect for a few centuries around the birth of Jesus.

We are generally familiar with other Jewish groups - Sadducees and Pharisees and Scribes. We don't know from the New Testament of the Essenes - but we have Roman and Jewish writings from the first and second centuries about this Jewish sect. And they basically were a group that had given up on the world. Society is too corrupt. The temple is too corrupt. We must withdraw, preserve the traditions, and live a strict monastic life. They're not the only people through time to have done this - but they were a particular people in the first century and a lot of scholars think that John the Baptist comes out of this community.

And there is great debate whether John sees himself as an Essene or if he has grown up in that environment and now has left it – returning to the world, or if he is still guided by it. And there's great debate over whether his cousin Jesus grew up as an Essene as well. Maybe there's even some tension here that explains why they both suddenly start proclaiming publicly. John comes as one who wears camel's hair and eats locusts – is seen as a bit of a wild man. He is challenging the status quo “you brood of vipers. What brings you to this place of repentance?”, he says to the Sadducees, to the Pharisees. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance!” We talked last week about John's vision of a threshing floor - of the chaff being burned. Our reading this week comes several chapters later. John is in prison. He has challenged the King over his marriage, he has been arrested. The gospel account says that this is when Jesus' public ministry begins - after John is arrested. Jesus begins his work and John, languishing in prison, sends a messenger to Jesus He says: “are you the one that is to come or are we to wait for another?” Now, last week, I talked about John boldly proclaiming, “this is the one I have seen. This is the one God has revealed to me. Follow him!” John sending his own followers into Jesus' camp. But now apparently, John has some questions. He's not quite so sure.

Have you ever had a dark night in the soul? What you were absolutely positive of now seems not to be bearing the results you had hoped for? Ever asked God a question? Have you ever yelled at God in anger or despair? I think God can take it, even invites it. You’re okay there.

But many of us have been there because God very often doesn't act the way we would have God act. John has proclaimed the ax of the root of the tree. John has proclaimed that the world is about to be cleansed. The powers that be are going to be overthrown. Justice will come… but it's been a while now. The blind see the deaf hear. The hungry are fed… the captives are released… but John languishes… John wanted to hear that the powers that be had been overthrown. That there was a new order, that Justice is prevailing. Jesus’ understanding of justice and wholeness seems to be different than what John was expecting.

I think it's different than a lot of us envision. Very often Christianity lapses into “when Christ comes again, then you all will get yours” or we fall back on some idea that we can't do anything about injustice here and now but God will make it right later and all we have to do is believe the right thing and maybe go to church occasionally…

Mary's song is proclaiming that God has already done the world… and as we consider this interaction between John and Jesus in Matthew 11, we need to bear in mind what just happened in Matthew 10. In Matthew 10, Jesus sent the twelve out and he charged them with proclaiming healing, and teaching. Matthew 10 is where he says, go to the village, go to the first house of how to eat, whatever they serve you, don't complain. Proclaim my message. If you're welcome, leave a blessing. If you're not welcome, shake the dust off your feet…. This kind of justice is very different than what we usually call for. We want the guilty punished!

God seems to want all of us to become whole. It's a vision of not arbitrary punishment and especially not punishment of other people for their sins…

because we don't want our sins punished – no…. our sins get forgiven, right?

It is them over there – they need punishment!

Now, Jesus does proclaim that the cities that have heard his message - that have seen his deeds and still go about the status quo. Oh, it'll be worse for them than it was for Sodom and Gomorrah, he says.

We are to wrestle with these texts. Let them inform our response to God. We are to hear the call - what God was calling us to do not because we earn anything by it – but because we are participating in Christ-like mission to this world. This world that for reasons I can't fully fathom, Jesus loves. God so loves the world he gives his son… God loves the world in this way – with Jesus. What Jesus does reveals God’s love… and it doesn't seem to be about arbitrarily escaping the suffering of this life. It seems to be about being good neighbors. It seems to be about reflecting the sacred, about being holy and compassionate in ways that we can't ourselves… ways that we are not capable ourselves of doing - but that in Christ we are equipped to do.

We are sent to do. I talked about the Disciples being sent out in Matthew 10 - In Matthew twelve, Jesus says that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.

This overwhelming call to restorative justice, to do good in the world, is less burdensome, he says, than our fixation on punishment and control and getting things our way. The burden is light – and while the light of the world is beyond our understanding - God is waiting on us this advent season. The more I study the scriptures, the more I preach, the more I pray, and the more convinced and convicted I am that God is eternally patient – waiting on us to participate in what Christ is doing in the world - to participate in what God has already done!

Mary proclaimed fellowship… the scriptures proclaim there is enough for all of us - that the wilderness might bear fruit, and dry places flow with living water. Our hearts be transformed!

For reasons I can't fully understand. God is waiting on us to participate in this kind of renewal and we can do so because Christ is with us.

The magi guide our journey. The Magi, remember, come from outside the tradition. They travel great distances. They bear gifts They bear witness and next week, we will see them recognize Herod’s evil, When they see that the systems are unjust - they change their course. They go home by another way. We don't know what they do next – the scriptures don’t tell us that. But they do tell us that we have the opportunity to decide what we do next - the opportunity to decide to participate in God's call, fullness, and holiness. That's what I pray for. Thanks be to God. Amen.



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