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Third Sunday of Advent, December 11, 2016 | 4:00 p.m.
Rooted in God’s Preparation
Have you ever had a moment of doubt where you started to question everything? Where you questioned what you lived for? The choices that you’ve made? The people you’ve loved? The directions that you’ve gone? And wondered how you’d ended up where you’re at? Maybe these questions are a wake-up call for you, or maybe they’re just based in fear and insecurity after an experience that has knocked you off your feet for a bit and you’re trying to regain your footing. That whirlwind headspace of remembering who you are and whose you are is grounding. Because just when you’re feeling lost and empty, God rushes in and fills that hole assuring you that you have been made ready. That you know those answers to those questions you’re asking. In our scripture this week, John the Baptist is in one of those doubting moments.
In the beginning of the gospel of Matthew, John comes across as a confident and self-assured man. He was a simple guy—living in the wilderness, wearing clothing of camel’s hair and a leather belt, eating locusts and honey. He was intense and direct, countercultural to Roman Empire life, calling on people to repent and change their hearts because the kingdom of heaven is near. But in chapter eleven, John is in prison. He has been preparing for so long, sacrificing for so long, giving everything he’s got for God and now he’s in prison, and he’s just got to make sure Jesus is the Messiah. He’s just got to make sure that everything he’s lived for mattered, was on track, and it’s not going to get lost by some new leader who doesn’t exactly fit the image of a Messiah who he thought would swoop down and tear down the empire immediately taking over the throne. John asks Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jesus answers in a way that seems to me like a segment of the Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” sketch “Really?!?” with Amy Poehler and Seth Myers, except here, it’s Jesus responding to John and John’s followers.
- Uhhh, you want to know if I’m the one, or if you need to keep on waiting? Really? Really.
- Remember how you actually baptized me and the Holy Spirit came to earth? Like a whole dove and everything? You didn’t know then? Really? Really. Really.
- You quoted prophets saying, “prepare the way of the Lord,” “the kingdom of God is coming.” And then I came. Really . . .
- I came preaching, teaching, healing, exorcising, prophesizing. Really? Really?
- I ask people to share their resources so all will receive care. I even say that we should love our enemies and pray for them. Really.
- I’m not one of those kings who makes you register because of a certain identity, or wants to kill you if you don’t look like me. You know, a Messiah like some would expect. I’m not a leader who’s trying to take all the power and will say anything to get there, going wherever the wind blows. And you still are wondering? Really? Really, John. Really.
- Surely you’re not someone who, all of a sudden, gets offended because you see that God cares about politics. Really?
Sometimes the Jesus in the gospel of Matthew is impatient and snarky, and I cringe thinking about what it would feel like to receive such snark from Jesus because I relate to John. If it were me, I’d be scared. I’d be worried about if I was going to survive or not in jail. I’d be worried that all my life had been for nothing—waiting and preparing and hoping and prevailing for God’s vision for the world. I’d want to get it just right. False leaders come up all the time. Messages get confusing, trying to determine fake news from real. I wouldn’t want to give that last bit of my life to a false Messiah. And I hope, if I were John, I hope that I could hear what Jesus is saying and resist the tendency to get defensive. Because in Jesus’ possible impatience, he actually answers John’s questions. He reminds John of who he is. Jesus sets him back on his feet—a “back to Jesus” moment if you will. “John, you’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time. God has been preparing you.” And as Jesus reminds John that God has been preparing John for this moment all along, I hope we can remember that God is preparing us now too.
Let’s just focus on one particular poignant issue that our country faces. Our president-elect has stated and is preparing a way to register all Muslims in the United States. If we are to learn from our history, we can see that this is all too similar to the registering and creation of special identification papers that Jewish people in Nazi Germany experienced, Palestinians in Israel today experience, and people of color in apartheid South Africa experienced. It also paves the way for repeating U.S. history of Japanese internment camps during World War II. And from a president-elect who claims to celebrate religious freedom, instead of holding Christian white supremacists accountable to their dangerous rhetoric and action, he’s generalizing all Muslims as ISIS. This type of behavior is against God.
Like Jesus erased any bit of doubt from John’s mind and clarified to him how God has been preparing him for this moment, to pave the way for a Messiah who speaks truth to power, who proclaims that God’s vision of hope and justice and love and equity is coming, now is the time for us too. We can pick up from the resistance movements of U.S. history and now continue on God’s way, God’s preparation that’s been working in us for a while. We can make phone calls to our senators and representatives. We can educate ourselves. We can have hard conversations. We can march in the streets. As Christians, we can register with our Muslim siblings first if such a nightmare really does come true. The question is, how will we respond to the preparation that God is working in us?
This week an article came out on Sojourners, a faith and action publication, and in it Calvin College professor Joseph Kuilema wrote about a recent experience he had. In his school’s newspaper, he talked about how institutions have historically privileged white people and marginalized people of color, and somehow this piece landed him on some “professor watchlist” that mimics McCarthy-era red scare propaganda. He’s an unlikely candidate to end up on such a list—being a white man coming from a more right leaning Christian school. But his words ring true in how he responded. He did not let that absurdity waver who he is or what he lives for. Maybe he did have a moment of doubt like John. Maybe writing this piece for Sojourners was what he needed to regain his confidence in whose he is and the gospel that he lives for. He proclaims in his article: “If in speaking prophetically we wake the devil, let us not be afraid. For the devil is a liar, and we serve the truth.” Like the resistance movements before and now, this is a time that we need to be confident in our voices and speak up. This is a time that we remind ourselves that this political climate is not normal and not ok. This is a time where our faith has an opportunity to bear its true fruit.
Doubts and fear do come up in our journey—that’s part of the human experience—but our faith community and the presence of the Spirit can help give us our “back to Jesus moments” reminding us why we’ve oriented our lives towards Christ and for the ground work of the kin-dom. There’s no need to be apologetic about who we are. Our Advent preparation can be about being strong in who we are so that we can organize now, resist the forces of evil that offend and crucify God, and rise up like never before.
Jesus wasn’t asking us to be good, nice, sweet Christians, Jesus was asking us to take a risk for the kin-dom, a risk for each other’s freedom, a risk for justice. Look at who we learn from in the Bible? John, Jesus, Mary, the prophets. Our faith tools, our country’s resistance history, our role models in the Bible—they all unmask evil’s lies and speak plainly. Jesus helps get John back on his feet and remember how God has been preparing him, helping John regain his confidence and affirming the path John chose.
Close your eyes. Think about how God has prepared you already for what is to come—the experiences that have shaped you, the experiences that you’ve learned from. Allow God to move into any loneliness and insecurities messing with your sense of self and hope and confidence. Listen to how God has been and continues preparing you for this time and place.
What types of concrete actions can you do to take care of yourself for the resistance that is needed now? What actions could you take to advocate for and support yourself and your neighbors?
Liberating God, hold us now and carry us in any doubt that may waver our sense of self, any thought that makes us doubt your love for us and your good and holy power that works against evil in this world. Help us believe in the preparations you’ve already built in us. Help us mold to the preparations you continue to work on us. May you work through us, for us, and our neighbors and community. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.