Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Witnesses

Third Sunday in Advent - Year A - December 16, 2007

Isaiah 35: 1-19, Luke 1: 46b-55 (The Magnificant), James 5: 7-10, Matthew 11: 2-11

This week we continue into the beautiful season of Advent. These last weeks we have been hearing about how we are to be ready for the coming of Christ in our lives. Jesus himself has given us the directive to remain awake and watchful, like being ready for a thief in the night. Jesus’ call to us has shown us that we must daily place ourselves in readiness for Jesus’ coming. Last week we examined what the readiness looks like in our lives, that it is a process of repentance, of letting go of the burdens of sin and struggle we carry, and turning towards Jesus.

Our gospel lesson this week has us once again hearing from John the Baptist. So different are his words this week, than from the words we heard last week. The fiery preaching, the shouting of “Repent!” has ceased as John sits locked up in a dark dungeon by a cynical ruler.

I’m not surprised by what John is asking. There is something very profound that happens to us when our freedom is taken away, whether that freedom has been taken by the authorities, or whether that freedom has been taken by illness, depression, heartbreak or the many other difficult passages of our lives. Losing our freedom sometimes forces us to address issues in our lives that we could have been ignoring.

As John wasted away in prison, the issue that came up for him was doubt. What?! Doubt? From John the Baptizer, who knew Jesus invitro; John, who immediately knew Jesus as he stood on the bank of the Jordan asking to be baptized; John, who had lived his entire austere desert life waiting and proclaiming that the one of whom Isaiah spoke was indeed coming and was indeed here.

Yes. John doubted. He had probably heard about the ministry of Jesus, how he was teaching, about love, justice, forgiveness…how he was healing the sick, and feeding the hungry and giving hope to those who were oppressed. John also knew that the message that Jesus was proclaiming was not like his own. The expectation that the one coming would bring judgment and wrath on the world was simply not being realized in Jesus. So, John doubted.

I wonder how many times I have been in such a place; A place where I think I have it all figured out; A place where I am sure that I know exactly how God is going to work things out. And how many times have I been mistaken about God’s plan? Plenty. And of course…a nagging doubt will creep in. What was I thinking? Could I be wrong about God? Why would God act this way?

I think we can all relate to John’s state of mind because all of us have been in a place like John was in. Not in a physical sence, not in a physical prison perhaps, but in a place where we are bound down by circumstances, finances, relationships, or health issues that have us considering whether we too could have been wrong about this faith in Jesus thing.

So John calls together a bunch of his devout followers. He tells them: go to Jesus and ask him outright! Are you the one, or should we wait for another? No doubt that command from their leader John must have shaken up his followers quite a bit. Imagine if you heard that on his death bed, that John Wesley, or Martin Luther King, or Billy Graham had said, I’m just not sure I’ve been right about this thing. You better go ask someone else. Maybe I was wrong.

So off the disciples of John go and they ask Jesus. Are you the one? And now I ask: Is Jesus the one? Jesus did not tell them yes…or no. Do you find that odd? That Jesus would not just come right out and say. Yes…I’m the one. An answer like that would have made things a lot easier, for sure. But rather, Jesus answered, “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” Experience for yourself, is what Jesus was saying. Hear and see for yourself…then go and tell.

You see, I could stand here the rest of my life telling you that Jesus is the one. But unless you are ready to hear, to see, and to experience Jesus for yourself, then you will never know for sure. You will doubt, you will get in places where your feel imprisoned, and like John, you will seriously doubt.

You know, it would be so much easier for us if we didn’t get into such places. If once and for all, assurance of Christ was made crystal clear, that no amount of pain, heartache or grief could throw a shadow of doubt. Then we could just go on about our lives…happily in the knowledge of Christ. But that isn’t really what God wants for us.

God wants for us to grow some spiritually everyday. God wants us to have full assurance. To grow us though God may allow us to wake up every morning with the tiniest doubt and ask, are you the one? For we must always be seeking Jesus.We are called to make ourselves ready and available for Christ coming everyday, whether that day we feel imprisoned, or as free as the air. That making ourselves ready everyday for the coming of Jesus in our lives is a process called sanctification, a daily growing in Christ.

As we did two Sundays ago and yesterday at Mabel…tonight at Henson Chapel, we will be participating in a Christmas program. We will sing carols, and watch the children dramatize the Christmas story. The same story will be told again. The one where Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem and Jesus is born. The shepherds and the angels, the Magi from the east all coming to worship the baby king.

Someone once commented, “Good grief, I don’t want to go again this year. It’s the same story as last year, nothing is changed.” How true a statement that is. We have a story to tell, one that we have experienced not only every Christmas since most of us can remember, but one that does not change.

That story is about God and God’s great love for us. In Philippians 2, Paul says that Jesus, who being the very nature of God, did not consider that position, equality with God, to be more important than coming to us, but rather Jesus humbled himself, laid aside that glory of God. He took on earthly flesh, was born of a human being. This is Jesus, the one whose birth we celebrate, the one on whom we wait for…to come to us.

I wonder how many of us has ever experienced this. You are going to be introduced to someone new…maybe a friend of a friend. You have been told about this person, what they look like, how they act, maybe their hobbies. You know a lot about them even before you meet them. But, even so, until the day comes when you are actually introduced to them, reach to shake their hand, and speak to them…you really have not experienced them as a person.

It is the same with Christ. We tell the story of Jesus to a world who has not met him. They’ve heard a lot about Jesus, they hear about his birth every Christmas, about his death and resurrection every Easter, they witness the good and the bad behavior of his followers, and they think that they know Jesus pretty good.

But until they truly experience the person of Jesus coming to them, meeting them person to person, speaking to them in their hearts, embracing them with his love and forgiveness, all they really know about Jesus is the stories they have heard about him.

Jesus has come into the world, not so that we will have a Merry Christmas, or be able to max out our credit cards once a year, decorate our homes, or go to Grandma’s to open presents. Jesus has come into the world to save us. Jesus has come so that we can hear and see him, to experience for ourselves the true God of heaven.

Those who think they know all about Jesus from the stories they’ve heard must do like John’s disciples did, like we have done. They must meet him; they must be introduced to the person of Jesus Christ by God’s Holy Spirit. They must hear, and see him, personally, to be saved.

As those who have met Jesus, persons who have been saved by his marvelous grace, we are now like the disciples of John, we must go and tell the story, we must be Christmas witnesses empowered ourselves by God’s Holy Spirit. We must go and it…on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Amen.

© Judy Eurey 2007

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