Materials for Worship Advent 3

An advent wreath with three candles lit and the word "Joy" above

Rachael writes: For the second week, our gospel passage focuses on St John the Baptist (Matthew 11.2-11). Many of us will quickly bring to mind an impression of a somewhat alternative fellow: dressed in camelhair, a wild beard, living off of locusts and honey. I was really struck by what Nerys shared last week though of the faithfulness of this man. Of the lengths that he went to, to be obedient to God’s call, and to point, beyond himself, to the coming Christ.

In our passage today, however, it seems as though this faithful man has a moment of hesitation. Are you the Messiah? he sends his followers to ask from his prison. Are you the one? Or do we need to keep waiting for another? I wonder if you hear a hopeful tone, or a hesitant one? The accompanying question is only implied – am I to stand with you or against you?

John’s desert ministry involved rather a lot of judgement. “You brood of Vipers” he declared. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit shall be cut down”. “I baptise with water for repentance but one is coming who is more powerful than me”. I don’t suppose he could have imagined that that power would be manifested in feeding people, in healing the sick, in setting people free from demons, in eating dinner with the vipers. John was perhaps expecting a little more force, and a little less fellowship; a little more liberation, and a little less love.

We too can become tired like John. We can start to look around us and say “where are you God?”, “why are we waiting?”, “is Jesus really coming?”. Like John, even the most faithful amongst us can find ourselves asking, are you the one, or do we need to wait for another?

The Psalms can be a wonderful place to turn in those moments. They are full of questions, full of doubt, full of wrestling. And full of joy. Like today (Psalm 146.5-10): “Happy are those whose hope and help is in God” (v.5). God who created all things and executes justice. Who watches over and upholds and reigns.

Isaiah is another excellent part of scripture to turn to with these questions. Again, it’s full of the angst of a people in exile, not sure if or when God’s going to show up in the way that they want but quietly aware that God has always been faithful. This morning’s passage from chapter 35 (verses 1-10) is a beautiful description of what it will be like when the exiles return, of God’s transforming redemption of all things: “The wilderness and dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom”.

Who do we know that has spent a lot of time in the wilderness and the desert? John the Baptist. Jesus points out that the people went to the wilderness to look for something – not a wimp buffeted by the wind like a reed nor a bureaucrat trying to fool everyone in their finery – but a prophet, the true prophet. The wilderness is where God’s people have always been formed. On the edges, beyond the walls, amongst the outcasts, is time and again the landscape of our shaping and molding and creating.

Jesus says I am here, this is me. In this work on the edge, in the wilderness. Where the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead rise, and the poor are brought good news. The Psalms attest to it, Isaiah attests to it. This is the breaking in of the Kingdom. We might ask, will Jesus really come? He might respond, do you have eyes to see?

A black woman with an orb of light in her stomach, holds her hands around the light. She is smiling or laughing.Our candle today represents joy. It comes from the first word of the introit for today in the Latin Mass: Gaudete in Domino semper, Rejoice in the Lord always. Even as we question, even as we doubt, we can still rejoice, like Mary who announced that the Mighty one has done great things in lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, and sending the rich away empty. This is the advent of heaven, which breaks in unexpectedly. God’s help and hope has no limits, if only we have eyes to see. “Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away”.

What can you rejoice over today? Can you share with God your doubts and your hopes? Ask God for eyes to see the Kingdom breaking in in this world.

We pray: Stir up our prayers, Lord, and hear us: that they who are sorrowful and suffering may rejoice at the Advent of your only-begotten Son; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.