Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sermon; Advent 3B; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Keep awake.  Be alert.  Stay watchful.
The kingdom has come.  The kingdom is in our midst.  The kingdom has yet to come.

These are the themes of Advent – be awake, alert and watchful, the kingdom is upon us.

This is not news to us.  Every year we prepare for the coming of Christ.  Every year we change the hangings to blue.  Every year we process Mary and Joseph up the aisle.  Every year we celebrate the first coming of Christ as a baby born to Mary & Joseph in a stall.  Every year we acknowledge the kingdom that is come has yet to appear.  Every year we watch and wait.

Hopefully we treat Advent with the intentionality it deserves.  Hopefully we don't slip into a business-as-usual mindset.  Hopefully we aren't lulled to sleep by the routine of it all.  Hopefully we can keep awake and be alert to the coming of the kingdom.

A reason that Advent has this alert and watchful theme about it is that we can never be sure when and where the kingdom of God will manifest itself.  The reason we need to stay awake and not get lulled to sleep by the routine of it all is because, according to Jesus, the kingdom of God will come like a thief in the night.

Be awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

I want to go back to the second half of Matthew 25 for a minute.  That was the gospel selection three weeks ago, so you should all remember it, right?  Anyone?  Here's a hint:  sheep, goats . . .

Now that we're all on the same page, remember that Jesus was separating the people between those who were invited into the kingdom and those who had room reservations . . . elsewhere.  And if you've forgotten, the criteria for deciding on who went where was whether or not a person fed, clothed, welcomed and visited those whom Jesus called, “the least of these.”

There are a couple of implications within that story.  The first, and most important, is that we need to see those in in need not as problems to be fixed, annoyances to be ignored or sent elsewhere, but as people to be acknowledged and humans to be cared for and respected.  Jesus is articulating what it looks like when we respect the dignity of every human being (also proving that he was an Episcopalian).

Another implication in this story is the anonymous Jesus.  Like Henry V wandered anonymously among his troops before the Battle of Agincourt, or like Hebrews 13:2 when the author writes, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it,” we also must be aware of the king anonymously in our midst.  It's easy to treat with respect and dignity those whom you know their status.  It's quite another to treat a person as a king or queen when you believe them not to be.

As a side note, a similar situation happens to me and Joelene when people find out I'm a priest – or she's married to a priest – after uttering a few choice words.

So a question for us reading Matt. 25 is this: what if we treated everyone as if they were Jesus?

Stay awake.  Pay attention.  Be alert.

Enough of Matt. 25, let's go back to John.  Last weeks' gospel was taken from Mark and introduced us to John the Baptist.  In Advent we are preparing for the coming of the Messiah.  Last week we were given a passage that helped us do just that – a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

Today we get yet another story of John the Baptist.  Why is this?  In the Advent cycle we move from the Grand Finale of the end days and yet-to-occur Second Coming on Advent 1 to his first coming in the form of a baby born to a young woman in a crowded town amid the animals and placed in a feeding trough on Christmas.  Why spend two weeks from two sources on John the Baptist?

I think it's to drive home the point that John is not Jesus.  In short, the early church had a John problem, so it worked very hard to turn him into a secondary character.  I’ll stop there, because I'm starting to get sidetracked.  But we have two weeks of John telling us to prepare for the one to come.

Both today and last week, John proclaims, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord'.”  And today we get a confrontation between him and some religious authorities.

In that confrontation John says, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one coming after me.”

I think this is one of those deceptively easy verses that has a vitally important message for us.

For better or for worse, we as Christians are the dominating force in this country.  We are the religious majority.  We are the religious leaders.  And if we are not careful, we just may miss seeing Jesus standing among us.

How humans treat other humans is a big part of Scripture.  How humans treat other humans appears to be a major concern of God – see Matt. 25 and Hebrews 13:2.  In Matthew, Hebrews and today's gospel, we are reminded that the king is among us.  We need to remember that how we choose to treat others reflects how we choose to treat Christ.

The kingdom has come.  The kingdom is in our midst.  The kingdom has yet to come.
Stay awake.  Pay attention.  Be alert.  Among you stands one whom you do not know.



First time comments will be moderated.