Easter Images in Advent
Third Sunday of Advent, Year A, RCL
Isaiah 35:1-10, Canticle 15, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11
This is a story of two mothers, one old and one young and when they come together, an overwhelming feeling of love fills their hearts. Yes, Mary and Elizabeth knew each other. They were even cousins, but this feeling that fills Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit doesn’t come from Mary or their familial bond. No, it comes from Jesus, Mary’s unborn baby. John leaped at Mary’s greeting not because it was Mary but because he was in the very presence of his Lord Jesus. The recognition of truth, in who Jesus is, brought overwhelming joy to both Mary, Elizabeth, and her yet to be born baby. Filled with such joy all Elizabeth can do is offer a blessing to Mary. And in response, Mary breaks into song.
In Mary’s song, she expresses how magnificent she feels, knowing the Lord is with her. She speaks of her hopes and dreams; dreams that are not about what she can do for her child but what her child will do for her and all of humanity. This song, the Magnificat, is also a dangerous song; one which says the truth will be told; a truth that levels the playing field. The rich will go away empty, the powerful will be unseated from their thrones, and the proud will lose heart all while the poor, hungry, and lowly will be filled with good things. No matter what your view is of Mary; whether you believe she is worthy of veneration or a person no different from the rest of us, we see that she has been touched by Jesus. Jesus has touched her heart, filled her with love, and changed her life forever. This is the living Jesus. The same living Jesus who is with us and fills our lives with joy and love; an abundant love that pours out of his very being into all of God’s creation.
Elizabeth’s son, John, was born into a good family. His father was a temple priest. Normally, a son like this would follow his father's footsteps but this isn’t the case for John. John, having been touched by the Lord, knows his calling; John is a truth-teller, a prophet. He will not be intimidated by others for the truth is most important. We see John grow up, living in the wilderness, roughing it on locust and honey. But these circumstances don’t dissuade him from telling the truth. He is out there proclaiming to the world that the Messiah is coming; a story we heard last week and a truth that culminates in Jesus’ Baptism. John tells the truth about King Herod who illegally marries his brother’s wife. And for this truth, John ends up in prison. John born in a good family, with every opportunity for a good career ends up, at least as many people see it, a degenerate, imprisoned and awaiting his sentence.
While in prison, John, on the other hand, is wondering, where is this Messiah of whom he had visions. Where is the one who is to topple kings, to set the captives free? Where is the Messiah that has been promised by the prophets? Knowing that his days could be coming to an end, he sends his disciples out to ask Jesus are you really the one? I’ve been waiting but haven’t seen what I am expecting. And in typical form, Jesus doesn’t answer the question.
If you remember my story about the evangelist and the Amish man last week; when the Amish man is asked “are you a Christian,” he replies, “don’t ask me, ask my friends.” Jesus replies in a similar way. Don’t ask me, look and see, talk to the people around me. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Decide for yourself if I am the Messiah, the one who is to come.
John the Baptist was looking for a Messiah who brings justice and equality by force, by toppling those in high positions, by making mountains low and valleys high. By this third Sunday of Advent, we have patiently waded through the images of doom and gloom, the destruction of our current age, and today we have images of beauty and love. Isaiah presents to us the rebirth of the world through
Easter images; images of flowers blooming in the desert and the entirety of God’s creation rejoicing with song. Isaiah’s images do not stand in isolation. We see these images when the angels come to the shepherds by night, singing in a heavenly chorus. We know of the great hope that comes with the Wise Men as they offer gifts to the baby. Our images of Easter fit perfectly, like a piece of a puzzle, into the image of Christ’s birth. But these images can deceive us much as they did John. We can go into life expecting one or the other, Easter’s rebirth and resurrection or the calamity of revelation.
When we, filled with preconceived ideas or expectations, search for our Lord, we may deceive ourselves for we rarely see the whole picture. Jesus speaks to us in the same words he speaks to the crowd around him. What did you come to see? A peaceful place with beautiful music and liturgy? Did you come to be with people dressed in fine clothes? No, you have come to be touched by the Lord, to hear the truth about ourselves and the world around us. You’ve come to be touched by a baby who can spread his love even from his mother’s womb. You’ve come to be transformed and see your life in the light of God’s kingdom. This is finding life through death, love in hardship, and Christ in the unexpected.