Sermon by Clare Heard at St George's Church Campden Hill - Advent Sunday 3
Sermon by Clare Heard at St George's Church Campden Hill - Advent Sunday 3 - John the Baptist Sermon
We are now half way through advent, and there are just 2 weeks to go until Christmas Day. I wonder what you have been thinking about this advent so far….I’ve spent the last two weeks working pretty hard, getting ready for Eleanor’s birthday, trying to plan Christmas and generally losing my rag at very small things….I think it’s called stress!
And it’s a shame that we do tend to fill our lives so full, expect so much to happen at Christmas (all of which needs organising), that we end up getting stressed and probably losing sight of the most special gift of all. We forget to rejoice.
As a child I adored Christmas, there was such wonder, such beauty, it was almost magical. As an adult, I find much of the space for wonder and beauty pushed aside by logistics. And I wonder whether it really has to be like this?
Perhaps the call of advent is primarily about making space in our busy lives to let the beauty and wonder back in. Of course there are things that need to be done, but maybe we should all challenge ourselves to make a little space in the midst of the chaos – to give ourselves time, to reflect, and to wait expectantly for all that Jesus brings.
However, having time in our lives does not always work out as planned. If we look at John in today’s gospel, he has time – he is in a prison cell – he has all the time in the world, and out of that time, that space, comes doubt, questions – Are you the one?
John is not the man of certainty and conviction that he was in last week’s gospel, when he was calling people to repentance. This week he is a man with questions. What is going on? Isn’t the Messiah supposed to come in power and glory, put everything right?
The OT reading today has a vision of what is to come; the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, water flow in deserts and life spring forth from wilderness. This is a passage that speaks of the coming of God’s Kingdom. It gives us hope that people will be healed, a broken world will be put right and death will no longer have the last word.
This is John’s vision. He is expecting great things from Jesus, and sitting alone in his cell he doesn’t understand what is happening; it doesn’t align with his expectations at all! Why isn’t Jesus getting him out of prison, driving out the Romans, restoring the Jewish people to their former glory?
Jesus seems to be carrying on his ministry but without any of the fiery zeal that most Jews would have expected from the Messiah. There have not been the baptisms with fire and spirit that he had predicted. John is confused, wondering whether he was right to proclaim Jesus as the Lamb of God.
In all John does, he goes ahead of Jesus and yet is not always certain, he still has times of doubt and confusion. Times of waiting and wondering, has he got all of this wrong? How can he be sure Jesus is the Messiah?
Perhaps, we have similar questions today. Maybe we have unfulfilled hopes, shattered dreams…..All of us in some way and at some time suffer pain and loss. We lose people we love, our dreams fade away and we have worries that we carry with us like a chain around our hearts.
We may look at the world around us and see the pain, the suffering and ask God, where are you? Why aren’t you fixing all this? Don’t you care?
Advent is exactly the right time to ask all these questions, it is a time of waiting for Jesus to come and make things right, and waiting often brings with it doubt and questions.
When will Jesus come? Why hasn’t he come already? Is God really there?
It’s a challenging time and it’s tempting to skip advent and jump straight to Christmas day, to the birth of the baby, rather than sitting in this time of uncertainty. We live in a world where we want instant answers, we want certainty and control – advent throws all that out of the window – it reminds us that we are not in control and that we don’t know everything. We don’t like this, but, if we can accept it, it can set us free. Free to not need to be in control, not need to have all the answers, free to explore, question, look at the world in new ways.
As John the Baptist sat and waited in prison, he sends his friends to ask the question – are you the one for whom we have been waiting?
Jesus doesn’t give a straight answer but points to the miracles and healings that he has performed. All of these together are types of reversal – the blind seeing, the lame walking, the dead being raised, reminiscent of the reversals in Isaiah. He is calling John to remember the prophets’ teaching and believe.
However, at the same time he is breaking down the narrow expectations of what the Messiah should be and pointing to a different way, a way of service and humility rather than power and glory.
The gospel is a call to transformation, of individuals and societies. It is a call to follow a different way, the narrow path. It is a call to change.
Do you believe we can change? Maybe we think change is for the young. They seem better at embracing it. And do you actually want to change?
Change is challenging – no-one really likes it and many of us respond very badly indeed, yet the Christian journey is all about change, it should be one of transformation.
John the Baptist changed from last week’s gospel to this one. And he changed primarily because his situation changes. He has a different view of the world from his prison cell, compared with the banks of the river Jordan. It’s not a pleasant change for him.
So too, our worlds are changing. We may not end up in prison, but as we move through life, the only constant is change. The question is, how do we respond? Do we try and cling to the past, the way things used to be? Or can we look for the opportunities that change brings?
It is often the hard changes, the ones that challenge us and force us out of our comfort zones, that bring the greatest opportunities for growth. This year at work, I received really honest feedback, possibly for the first time. It was not comfortable, it forced me to relook at the way I work, change my expectations, and it was a serious blow to my ego. And yet, 6 months later, I can say it was the best thing that happened this year, because it allowed me to grow a little, transform a little, change.
Now clearly, some change is more challenging than others, and certainly not all change is good. It can be devastating. But change is inevitable, and in order to respond with love, rather than fear, to look for the light beyond the darkness, we need to have hope – hope that Christ will return, that he will redeem the earth, that things will be put right. Our hope is in the one who does not change, but continues to love us in every place and situation in which we find ourselves.
And this hope that we have in the unchanging God of love allows us to let go of our fears and to embrace the changing world in which we live. And as we hope, as we wait, as we open ourselves to God’s redeeming love, we see the world differently, we become more aware of the lives of others and we are called to participate in the reversal’s Jesus and Isaiah speak of, bringing God’s healing and redeeming love to our changing world. We are called to rejoice.
And so this advent, I’d encourage each of us to make some space in our lives. To ask questions, to lay down our certainties, and to allow the beauty and wonder of the Word made flesh, back in to our lives and our hearts this Christmas.