Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Third Sunday of Advent – December 15, 2013
In the name of the Living God – the God who waits with us and invites our wondering – Creator, Savior, Spirit of New Life. Amen.
On a typical day, we wait a lot.
We wait for the sun to come up.
We wait for the coffee maker to deliver.
We wait for our cars to warm up or the train to arrive.
Kids wait for the bus, the class to be over; the weekend to begin.
Parents wait to hear the car in the drive, the sound of teenaged feet on the stairs.
We wait for the phone to ring, the verdict to be read, the diagnosis to be made. We wait for birth; we wait for death. Some of our waiting is mundane, some deeply profound.
Some of the time we have an idea of what we are waiting for – what it will be like when the waiting is finally over. When the phone does ring, when the verdict is read, when the diagnosis is made, when the baby is born, and when the breathing stops – some of the waiting is over – some of the apprehension, some of the fear dissipates. Often, however, especially when what we have been waiting for is on the profound end of the scale, there is more waiting, more wondering.
For the Hebrew people, the waiting was focused on the One who would come and set them free. Their prophets had tried to prepare them to be ready at any time – but they had endured hundreds of years of captivity and occupation since the words of Ezra and Nehemiah were heard. There had been not one flicker of light that could be described as – or even point to – freedom.
But when John the Baptist appeared on the scene, the spark of God’s voice returned. The people had not heard or seen the likes of him for centuries. His was the voice of one crying in the wilderness – the wilderness of silence. Many believed he was the Promised One. Preaching repentance, his message evoked the memories of their ancient prophets. His words continued the beat of God’s march with the people.
As Barbara Brown Taylor describes it, “ Finally, someone was speaking God’s language again – talking of sin rather than profit, about repentance rather than compromise. John was not interested in helping people become more productive members of society, he wanted them poised to enter God’s kingdom.”
John seems to have known he was not the promised one. He, too, looked forward, waiting and wondering about God’s promises. He must have had some clue about his cousin, Aunt Mary’s son. They certainly must have run into one another at family gatherings. And there was that crazy time, not that long ago, when Jesus appeared at the Jordan River with a bunch of others, getting in the long line of those desiring to be baptized.
“How’d that go again?” John might have wondered from time to time. “Was I dreaming or was the sun so bright and the crowds so noisy that I simply imagined the heavens opening, a dove descending and a voice saying something about my cousin being the One? The One on whom God’s favor rested in a new and special way?
He certainly hasn’t acted much like what I was expecting when it comes to a Savior. He’s smart; I’ll give him that. Seems like he’s always getting into it with the priests and holding his own. He’s got a pretty decent devotional life – going off to pray regularly, attending worship, that sort of thing. And damn, if he doesn’t know the best fishing spots!
He’s got a following, that’s for sure. I hear about hundreds, thousands at times, clamoring after him – hanging on his every word. Must be nice. But is this the ONE? The One we’ve all been waiting for? I don’t know. I just don’t know.
And here I sit in prison – still waiting, still wondering. He’s my cousin, for crying out loud. His mom – well, we’ve had some interesting family discussions about her, that’s for sure!
And his friends…..don’t even get me started.
But I want to know. I need to know. I, like the rest of my people have been waiting – not for the next camel-cab – but waiting for something extraordinary – something our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents have been waiting for. Can it be Jesus?
I have my doubts.
But then again, I have hope.
I’ve been preaching repentance my whole life – though I’m not exactly sure why. Something, something deep and strong, swift yet enduring has continued to prod me – continued to push me toward this message. Things are not right as they are – but they can be – things CAN be right. And people seem to have heard – they have repented, turned around. They’ve changed their lives; their priorities are different.
What’s been so hard for me – shocking, really – is coming to terms with the way God showed up – if, indeed, Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.
We’ve been waiting for a king and what God delivered was a baby. We needed a battle cry and what we got was upside-down teaching about humility. We needed a savior and we got a carpenter. I need more; I need answers – I need proof.”
Like John, we wonder – because we, too, have waited. There are those among us who are waiting for a prognosis, others are waiting for pain and suffering to be over. Some continue to wait for work; others wait for the day when they will not be counted among the over 33,000 homeless men, women and children in Fairfield County.
This week we have all been reminded of the long struggle born by the South African people – and the profound wait endured by Nelson Mandela – seventeen years of imprisonment –waiting for something so similar to what God’s people had been waiting for when John sat in his prison cell and wondered about Jesus: freedom from oppression, justice and peace for a nation.
Today is Gaudate or “rejoice!” Sunday – the third Sunday in Advent. I’ve been hard-pressed to get to a place of rejoicing this week, however. Standing beside our Newtown Memorial tree both Thursday evening and yesterday morning, I couldn’t help but wonder again. We, along with the families and friends of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting, wait. And we wonder.
It’s tempting to quit asking the important questions – to simply give up, to expect the worst. But John never stopped wondering and he wasn’t afraid to ask. “Are you the One we are waiting for or must we wait for another?”
“Look around,” Jesus replies. Some of those who were blind now see. Some of those who were lame now dance. Some of those who were deaf now hear and even some of those who were dead are alive.”
There is still racial tension and inequality in South Africa – but there were thousands of people, maimed by previous injustice, dancing on dirt roads in thanksgiving for Madiba this week. There are still those ready to snap – but better mental health care will soon be available. And maybe, just maybe, one day our laws will reflect the will of the majority and deadly weapons will no longer be legal on our streets or in our schools.
May what we hope for be enough to keep us alert and able to see what we wait for. May our wondering make us ready to rejoice at any glimmer of God’s Kingdom and may we recommit ourselves today to join in the building of a just and peaceful world – even as we wait – even as we wonder.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen.