11th December 2022 10.30am – Third Sunday of Advent Eucharist

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22 12 11 3rd Sunday of Advent Eucharist

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Image © The Rev’d Sarah West | visiolectio.com



The Readings

Isaiah 35.1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Matthew 11.2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Joe P

Life has changed for John the Baptist since our last Lectionary reading.
The last we heard about him, he was the ‘new kid in town’ prophet, preaching – literally – in the wilderness to all who would come and visit him.  We saw him referring to members of the religious establishment who were present as ‘a brood of vipers’ and asking people why they wanted to be baptised. He was also pretty ‘hard core’ about what might be expected; “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – and John reminded his audience that the fires were already being lit.
This was certainly what his audience would expect from a prophet, even if it was quite uncomfortable and scary!
But today – John’s in jail.  Some of his preaching hit a little too close to home for King Herod, and John experienced the usual consequences of preaching truth to power.
But he is still in touch with his followers, and sends them out to find Jesus, who John has heard of.  And the question he asks is “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Those of you with a long memory may recall that when I preached about John the Baptist some years ago, I mentioned the following observation made by John Meynard Keynes about Sir Isaac Newton:
“He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance.”
Newton’s work started the changes in scientific thinking that led to where we are today.  And similarly, John the Baptist; a wildman, a voice crying out in the wilderness, carried on in the prophetic tradition of God’s people, whilst at the same time looking forward to something new; the presence of God incarnate amongst the people.
Like Newton, John sits between two traditions; he is in many ways the last traditional Hebrew prophet, looking out on the relationship of God with His people like all the people and prophets before him.  But he is also looking forward to the coming of Christ, and the changing of the relationship between God and His creation that Jesus’s coming will bring about.
In this season of Advent, John’s prophetic ministry provides a pause, a wait, a sense of anticipation between the Old Testament and the Gospel.  And John is now doing that waiting in jail, hearing about what’s happening through his followers, unable to preach himself.
John’s followers turn up at one of Jesus’s gatherings.  We hear:
Jesus answered them, Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
They leave to go back to John and pass Jesus’s word on.
Now, does Jesus explicitly answer John’s question?
John asks is “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
I get the feeling that John’s followers, taking Jesus’s message back to John, might have said to each other ‘John isn’t going to like this…’
After all, John has been preaching his version of ‘hellfire and damnation’ to the people.  He’s been the wild man of the wilderness, preaching wrath towards those he felt needed it.  He’s been threatening the unrighteous with God’s axe and winnowing fork, and  reminding them that the axe is nice and sharp at the foot of the tree, and that the flames are good and hot.
And this Jesus fellow – who looks like he could be ‘the one’, is going on about healing people and preaching good news to the poor.
We don’t hear what John himself has to say, but after John’s followers have left, Jesus speaks to the people about John the Baptist – some of whom will have been to see John speak.
“A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.”
He suggests that what the people expected to see when they went to hear John is not what they got – we gathered that from our earlier readings about John’s preaching style. But they did go to see a prophet, and he was the prophet that spoke of Jesus’s own coming.
Not mentioned in our reading today, Jesus finishes his words to the crowd with the sentence:
“Yet Wisdom is shown to be right by what it does.”
Wisdom is shown to be right by what it does.
And surely – healing the blind, the lame, the deaf is good and righteous.  It is a sign of Wisdom.
We should be able to see Wisdom by its actions.  And it might not always be what we expect it to be.
He’s not said it explicitly to John’s followers, but I think that Jesus is expecting John to take heart from his words, that good things – life-changing, righteous worthwhile things – are being done for people by Jesus in his ministry.
John may be taken by surprise that Jesus’s way of bringing about the Kingdom of God is not what he expects – but he will have to admit that the good things that Jesus is doing are worthwhile.
And then there’s the last part of Jesus’s answer to John’s followers:
“And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”
This is very reminiscent of the Beatitudes – we could add this on to the end of the Beatitudes with a small change:
“Blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”
I think this is John’s answer.
Jesus is saying ‘Whatever I do that impacts you, that might cause you offence or dismay, don’t be offended by it.  In fact, you’ll be blessed if you’re not offended.’
This sounds a bit strange – but we need to remember that Jesus is a rule breaker; a game-changer; He is here to radically change the relationship of God and man.  With Jesus, God is with us – in the flesh.  Jesus’s preaching and actions would give people as many questions and concerns as John’s would.
Many would be offended; but to follow Jesus, and be blessed by him – do not be offended by Jesus’s teachings.
A lesson that should also be aware of; Jesus’s teachings may offend our personal beliefs; we may be taken aback by some of the things He says and does, but by refusing to take offence and embracing His teachings – we will be blessed.

The Prayers
Prepared by Catherine

In joyful expectation of his coming to our aid
we pray to Jesus.
Come to your Church as Lord and judge.
Come to our local churches as we prepare for, and hold,
our Christmas services and events.
Come to the worldwide Church.
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing for your kingdom.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Come to your world as King of the nations.
Come to this world where war, violence or environmental disaster have made deserts of places.
Come to this world of displaced, homeless and hungry people.
Come and enable our deserts to blossom.
Come into the hearts of governments and leaders.
Before you rulers will stand in silence.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Come to the suffering as Saviour and comforter.
Come to all who are without heat or comfortable homes this winter.
Come to those coping with illness or stressful situations.
Come to those known personally to us…
Break into our lives,
where we struggle with sickness and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Come to us as shepherd and guardian of our souls.
Come to all who mourn the loss of a loved one.
Give us with all the faithful departed
a share in your victory over evil and death.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Come from heaven, Lord Jesus, with power and great glory.
Lift us up to meet you,
that with Mary, Mark, John and all your saints and angels
we may live and reign with you in your new creation.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay;
give new courage to your people,
who trust in your love.
By your coming, raise us to share in the joy of your kingdom
on earth as in heaven,
where you live and reign with the Father and the Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is used here is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2006