Summary: Sermon for Advent 3, year C. John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus wanting to know why Jesus allowed him to remain in jail. Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah back to him, and said, "rejoice."
Preparing for 2020
John, Jesus, and Joy: Listening to the right prophet.
I do not wear pink very often (unless I lose a bet, like today…). But, there is one service in the church year where the priest can wear pink vestments. Rose Sunday, or the Sunday of Joy… Today.
I didn’t want to wear pink, so I decided I needed to tactfully "inquire" and see if pink was the tradition.
I asked Kathy Lopez, “Is pink customary for Rose Sunday? I haven’t noticed rose-colored vestments.” Kathy said, “We haven’t done that before.” I smiled, nodded, and said, “That sounds great to me.” What Kathy didn't know is that it would be a joyful because I can wear blue.
No matter the color, today is when we silence the chaos of life and rejoice, be joyful, and give thanks.
Isaiah painted a picture of flowers blooming in the desert, of clear waters flowing where there once was dry sand. He even said God would open ears and eyes so people could see and hear God at work among them. As you can imagine, I was excited to preach this sermon when I read Isaiah. It’s an easy sermon: Prepare for the joy that God will send us.
That was well and good until John the Baptist came back to church. He's like the obnoxious uncle who doesn't know when it's time to leave once Christmas lunch is over and everyone else has gone home. John stays.
In the gospel lesson, he was in prison. He wanted to know if Jesus was really the Messiah. So, this Sunday the church sets aside for joy, yet we encounter John, the prophet who prepared the way for Jesus, wanting to know if Jesus…
We have two prophets; the first was in jail and almost criticized Jesus. The second was Isaiah. He comforted people instead of criticizing them. Both can teach us about joy. As I read them I see that,
1. Joy surrenders its expectations.
Speaking of expectations, I met a young man in Afghanistan that I'll never forget. He wanted to talk through some relationship issues with his father. He began with, "Padre, have you ever met someone who would sacrifice relationships on the altar of expectations?" "Unfortunately, I've met far too many." "Then you've met my father," he said. As I listened, I realized his father wanted him to follow his footsteps and be a surgeon, but his son wanted to be a soldier.
John was one of those people. He held others to his version of perfection. Why? Because John had certainty, and he knew his way was the only way. I’ve learned that joy doesn’t hang around certainty very long.
John’s certainty also spilled over into how he understood the messiah. He created a mold for the messiah.
John was a…. connoisseur of desert living. Much like Renaissance art, John would have painted Jesus in a trendy camel hair jacket, accentuated by the savory and succulent delicacy of honey-roasted grasshoppers from the northern regions of the Negev desert.
BUT, Jesus didn’t wear John’s expectations. Nor did he lead John’s beloved religious revolution. He even disappointed a whole nation when he didn’t recruit soldiers and destroy the Roman government once and for all. Jesus was a disappointment.
Let me bring this home. John sent people to Jesus who said, “Look, you’re not living up to my expectations. I declared you the son of God. I prophesied that you were the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies. Now I’m in jail. If YOU are the Christ, get me out of here. Either you’re letting me sit here, or you’re powerless to get me out. Either way this is your fault. Do we just need to look for another Messiah?
When I hear this, I want to rebuke John for his disrespect. Then I realize I've been John before. I’ve felt like God failed me when my life fell apart. I’ve thought, “God, I told you what I wanted, yet you leave me in this confined space where life seems so constricted. I’m afraid and lonely.”
Allow me a personal moment where we can all be honest. We need the courage to name those feelings because getting them out leaves room for the Spirit to heal on the inside.
Jesus sent word back to John, “It doesn’t seem like it now, but the poor hear good news, the lepers – the ones shunned by society – are healed from the shame, even those who are dead rise. It’s happening, whether or not it meets your expectations.
2. Personal expectations can’t produce joy. It comes from purposeful imagination.
Imagination was Isaiah’s secret! He faced death, too. However, he faced more than a cell. The Assyrian army destroyed the nation above them, and they marched toward Jerusalem. Isaiah and his people faced genocide, or at best slavery. Yet he prophesied joy.