Tuesday, December 14

Sermon: Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:4-9
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11


(I apologize for the delay in posting this sermon. Please also note that it was rather more exptemporaneous than I usually offer; I had neither manuscript nor outline, simply some notes scribbled on the back of a piece of paper, and a week's worth of prayer in my head. That being so, the text below will undoubtedly have some variation from what I said, and the congregation heard, that evening. However, I've tried to restructure the gist of it.)

In my tradition, this day is often called Rose Sunday. Most Episcopal churches will have an Advent wreath set up this time of year, with four candles in it: three purple, and one pink. Today's the day we light the pink one-- a sign of the godly joy that can be, in this season of expectation.

Our scriptures for today certainly reflect that joy, don't they? "The blind see, and the deaf hear; the ailing are healed, and the lame leap for joy." Even in the Old Testament, where Isaiah says that "even the fool will not go astray." As much time as I spend on the road, I am forever having to turn around and get back on the right path-- to the point that my daughter will refer to "another of Mom's famous u-turns." So the idea of not even being able to go astray, contains a particular comfort for me.

But look again at today's Gospel. Once again, Jesus doesn't leave it there. He turns to the crowd that has just heard this good news, and says to them, "What did you come out here to see?" I hear this rather like that oft-repeated line, "Whadda you lookin' at?"

"What were you expecting?" Fancy clergy in soft clothes? I learned in my little Greek conversation group last week that the word "soft" referred not as much to the texture, as to the fine weave of small, even threads that expensive cloth would have had-- material that would have been beyond the means of many, but likely worn by temple priests and levites. Anyone who was expecting that, would have been disappointed; that was not John's style at all.

So, what about those who came out expecting a prophet? Well that is what they got... sort of. John was more than a prophet, Jesus says, much more; but also among the least of the Kingdom of Heaven. So, even those who were partially correct, were not experiencing what they might have have expected, either. They weren't seeing the whole picture.

So, with that in mind, think with me for a minute: what are you expecting?

In this season of Advent, of preparation for Christmas, there are a lot of answers. Some things I'll be expecting are familiar territory: time with my family... a few presents under the tree... special foods, and lots of them. Chances are that I'll see and experience all of these things; but it's also entirely possible that they will not be wholly like I'm anticipating.

Then there are other things that I'm expecting, and I have no idea how they're going to go. My General Ordination Exams, the first week of January; three months' of field education, in a couple of unfamiliar parishes; even the ongoing formation of this church, this congregation. I know how I hope these things will go; but I have no clue what to expect.

How do we handle that? How do we cope when we don't know, or when reality turns out to be different than our expectations? When events-- or relationships-- aren't what we hope or expect from them?

James offers one answer: "Be patient, therefore, beloved..." Like the farmer who plants a crop, not knowing what the harvest will be. Work and wait patiently... and then deal patiently with the results as well. Sometimes that's the hardest part: being patient with the results, when they aren't what we hoped or expected.

So, enter the discussion with me, please. What are we expecting-- of ourselves, as well as of others; of this church, and of the world around us? And how do we handle what we get?