3rd Sunday in Advent
December 16, 2007
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. And the wolf will be living with the lamb, and the leopard will take his rest with the young goat; and the lion will take grass for food like the ox; and the young lion will go with the young ones of the herd; and a little child will be their guide. And the cow and the bear will be friends while their young ones are sleeping together. And the child at the breast will be playing by the hole of the snake, and the older child will put his hand on the bright eye of the poison-snake. There will be no cause of pain or destruction in all my holy mountain: for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is covered by the waters. And in that day, the eyes of the nations will be turned to the root of Jesse which will be lifted up as the flag of the peoples; and his resting-place will be glory. And in that day the hand of the Lord will be stretched out the second time to get back the rest of his people, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the sea-lands.
Now when John had news in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciple to say to him, Are you he who is to come, or are we waiting for another? And Jesus, answering, said to them, Go and give news to John of the things which you are seeing and hearing: The blind see; those who were not able to, are walking; lepers are made clean; those who were without hearing, now have their ears open; the dead come to life again, and the poor have the good news given to them. And a blessing will be on him who has no doubts about me. And when they were going away, Jesus, talking of John, said to all the people, What went you out into the waste land to see? a tall stem moving in the wind? But what went you out to see? a man delicately clothed? Those who have fair robes are in kings’ houses. But why did you go out? to see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it has been said, See, I send my servant before your face, who will make ready your way before you. Truly I say to you, Among the sons of women there has not been a greater than John the Baptist: but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
The big news is that Christmas is Getting Close! There are just 8 days to go… That’s 192 hours…. Minus time for working, sleeping, eating … and the rest of everyday life… You have just 24 hours left to get ready for Christmas! [The clock is ticking…]. Now imagine that you didn’t know what Christmas was and what it meant … how would you find out? These days you might search the web using Google to figure out what this Christmas business means. So I did that and performed an image search using “Christmas” as the key word. The search returned (in order)….images of a snowman, two children singing in the snow, various idealized snowflakes, more snowmen, a house with lights showing through the windows, a car piled high with gifts on the seats, more Christmas trees and more snowmen, a map of Christmas Island, a pine tree covered in snow, a market scene, a house lit up with lots of lights, a Santa Claus figure in a shopping mall, two bright red bells, more pine trees….and then, finally, as result number 16, there was a lithograph of a nativity scene! The next result that had anything at all to do with Jesus was hit number 92, which was the image from the cover of a movie called “Mystery of the Christmas Star”. So who took Jesus out of Christmas? If you didn’t already know that Christmas was something to do with Jesus, you would be hard pressed to discover that from looking at the various images that the internet search produced. Confusion about Jesus is nothing new. It isn’t a modern phenomenon at all. Even John the Baptist was not so sure, as we can see:
“Now when John had news in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciple to say to him, Are you he who is to come, or are we waiting for another?”
The response, given in Matthew 11:2-11, is interesting:
“And Jesus, answering, said to them, Go and give news to John of the things which you are seeing and hearing: The blind see; those who were not able to, are walking; lepers are made clean; those who were without hearing, now have their ears open; the dead come to life again, and the poor have the good news given to them.”
We see here the echoes of Isaiah:
(i) The blind see…
Matthew 9:27 – 31: Jesus and the two blind men – “and their eyes were opened”
Isaiah 29:18 – “… and the eyes of the blind shall see…”
(ii) … those who were not able to, are walking
Matthew 9:1-8 – Jesus and the lame man – “take up your bed and walk”
Isaiah 35:6 – “… the lame man shall leap as a deer…”
(iii) … lepers are made clean
Matthew 8:1-4 – Jesus and the leper – “he touched him … and he was made clean”
Isaiah 53:3-4 “one from whom men hide their face … he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows…”
(iv) … those who were without hearing, now have their ears open
Matthew 9:32-34 – “the dumb man spoke”
Isaiah 29:18 “… and on that day the deaf shall hear…”
(v) … the dead come to life again
Matthew 9:18-26 “… she is not dead but sleeping … he took her by the hand and she rose…”
Isaiah 26:19 “Your dead shall live; their dead bodies shall come to life again…”
Here we see Jesus cast as “Suffering Servant” and so as the Messiah (Christ) predicted by Isaiah:
And a blessing will be on him who has no doubts about me.
Isaiah 61:1 “…prisoners will be made free, and that those in chains will see the light again…”
Verses 7-11 cast John as:
• A prophet (even more…)
• The required Elijah figure – forerunner of the Messiah
• Confirmation that Jesus is Messiah
So when we are asked “Who is this “Jesus”, anyway?” we can answer that Matthew saw him as the Messiah who would usher in the Kingdom of God!
We have just 24 hours left to get ready for Christmas. It isn’t about snowmen and pine trees, about piles of gifts or even Santa Claus. It is our chance to “give news … of the things which you are seeing and hearing”. We can use our own symbols to tell the story: an advent wreath, a nativity scene, a Jesse tree perhaps. We can tell the story and sing the songs. We can put Jesus back into Christmas! Let’s do it this year.