December 13th: The Third Sunday of Advent

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The text for the day was John 1.6-8,29-28. The sermon was based on the below manuscript .

What are you waiting for?
As vaccines start to ship to hospitals,
we’re all waiting for this plague to end.
We’re waiting to be back in person,
in full force,
at communion
in both kinds.
With thirteen people executed by the United States government
since 1963 —
10 of them in 2020 —
I’m waiting for the end of the death penalty
on paper and in practice.
We’re waiting for the time
when we don’t have to chant “Black Lives Matter”
because they truly do matter.
We’re waiting for the time
when Black Lives Matter banners
aren’t stolen from churches
and burned in the streets.
I’m waiting for a time
when all sexual harassment and assaults
don’t run rampant in the military…
not 93 accounts out of 507 interviews at Ft. Hood.
What are you waiting for?

The people to whom John the Baptizer is preaching
are waiting for God’s intervention.
When asked by emissaries of Jerusalem’s Jewish leaders
the Baptizer says that he’s the voice crying out in the wilderness.
The passage from Isaiah he quotes,
is an statement of hope:
God’s angels are going to level hills and fill in valleys
so the Hebrew people could escape Babylon quickly.
Those waiting for God’s intervention
were looking for the Messiah,
the Christ,
the Annointed one.
Some were looking for Elijah to return
to anoint the person
who would deliver them from Roman occupation.
John makes it abundantly clear:
he is not the Messiah.
Nor is he Elijah,
nor a prophet-like-Moses.

John’s act of baptizing,
something new from the son of a priest,
is investigated by priests and Levites.
People are waiting for God’s divine intervention,
for the Messiah to show up at Bethlehem.
John the Baptizer is getting them ready
for God’s divine intervention,
ready for one he does not know,
who they do not know,
who is among the people coming to hear him.
He himself will only recognize Jesus,
on the second day of this visit from the Jerusalemites,
because God is working through him.
Nothing that the Baptizer is doing
is being done on his own.

While the people longed
for a military leader to free them from Rome,
God had a different plan,
an even bigger plan.
Rather than free the Israelites
from Roman occupation,
God was sending Jesus to free humanity.
John the Baptizer testifies on day two
that Jesus is the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world.
The Baptizer’s message is
to get people ready
for the work of the one who comes after him.

Rather than valleys in the wilderness being filled
and mountains being leveled to create a road,
John the Baptist’s work is preparing people
for Jesus arrival,
the arrival of the one who frees us all
from the slavery of sin.
“His baptizing and preaching in the desert
was opening up the hearts of humans,
leveling their pride,
filling their emptiness,
and thus preparing them for God’s intervention.”
Preparing the way of the Lord for John the Baptist
was not passive waiting.
It was knowing that Jesus was coming,
and stirring up God’s power
for Jesus to come among us with great might.
In waiting for Jesus’ arrival,
John —
a temporary voice
preparing the way for the eternal Word —
calls the people to repentance and prayer.

By the time John the Evangelist —
not the Baptist —
records this, the church is where we are.
John the Baptizer
had folks waiting for Jesus to come.
John the evangelist’s audience through time
is waiting for Jesus’ return,
which is not a passive waiting.
We hear this passage in Advent
as the church reminds us
that Jesus is coming, despite the delays.
As much as I am enjoying
opening Topher’s advent calendar
and eating the chocolate he can’t have,
the waiting of Advent isn’t a countdown to Christmas.

The waiting of Advent,
which is not passive,
is waiting in a cosmic sense.
It’s the church inviting us
to ground ourselves
in our professed reality
that God is in control,
that Jesus has come to take away the sin of the world,
and that we will return to make all things right.
Advent waiting invites us
to put our whole trust in Jesus,
like we profess at our baptisms.
This is a waiting that reminds us that God, not we,
is the creator of justice, joy, compassion and peace.
It is God, not we,
who has acted in the Magnificat,
filling the hungry with good things
and sending the rich away empty.

As we wait with faithful hope for the day of the Lord’s coming,
looking at a picture bigger than election cycles,
we aren’t sitting by passively.
Second Peter last week admonished us
to waiting for and hastening the coming of Jesus’ reign.
First Thessalonians today gives us some ways to do that:
Rejoice always,
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances.
Jesus is coming to set all things right.
What are you waiting for?

Leave a Comment