Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
December 15, 2019
Lessons: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people hear the call to keep Advent and respond with a radical YES.
Key Scripture: Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Matthew 24:42
My spiritual director has suggested I take up a new spiritual discipline — using the word “no.” It’s been a good but difficult practice for me to embrace, but I am finally beginning to understand the real value in saying “no” more often. Saying “no” to requests or suggestions that motivate through guilt, shame, or abject duty frees up space to say “yes” in ways that feed my spirit, more fully use my true gifts and talents, and guide me toward being my fullest self as God desires. Saying both “yes” and “no” depends upon careful discernment, holy listening, and deep engagement with the Creator of the Universe. It’s more about responding than about reacting, about avoiding “fight or flight” decision making. I suspect that many of us could benefit from some time spent pondering and practicing the life-giving practice of balancing “yes” and “no.”
This week’s lessons, however, all share the spirit of the Advent radical YES. This week is also celebrated in some liturgical circles as “Gaudete Sunday.” The name comes from the entrance antiphon taken from Philippians 4:4-5: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. We are more than halfway through the season of Advent, drawing ever near to our celebration of Jesus’ arrival on the scene as a helpless, refugee infant—God’s big YES to this world.
Here are a few possible springboards for each lesson:
These words proclaim God’s resounding “yes” to the people of Israel who long for a return from captivity and servitude. What is parched and barren will blossom with new life and joy. Miracles happen: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap, and those who have been silenced sing for joy. Yes, “everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” This passage also points to the first Advent of Jesus—joy, hope, and YES!
This week’s appointed psalm addresses the nature of God and proclaims the joy and hope of those whose “help is in the God of Jacob.” God not only works justice, feeds, and frees, God also restores sight, lifts up the broken, cares for orphans and widows, and watches over strangers. This amazing God deserves praise. This loving God said YES to all of creation, and in this psalm we praise and respond YES to God. This psalm shares with both the Old Testament lesson and Gospel the image of sight being restored.
The Magnificat, or Mary’s song, is the ultimate YES of scripture. This song is no shy, shrinking violet syrupy-sweet hymn; it is a woman’s strong and power-full poem of praise, prophecy and audacious hope. Plus, this teenager’s voice reveals an amazing grasp of theology in these few short lines. How will our “yes” look and sound? Will we be, like Mary, all in and completely connected to God?
Do you remember the impatience of childhood travel? Did you ever see the cartoon clip of Lisa and Bart Simpson pestering their parents from the back seat: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” People of almost every age have looked for the imminent return of Jesus in glory. Even in the first century, the author of this letter urges their audience to be patient, strong, and to work together in community. The author points to the prophets as examples of suffering and patience, linking his community with the great cloud of witnesses of which we, too, are a part.
Everyone experiences doubt, even the most highly praised prophet John the Baptist. He sits in prison wondering if Jesus really is the promised Messiah. I can imagine him saying, “How long, O Lord? When will everything be made right?” He sends word to Jesus, and Jesus responds by telling John’s disciples to go back and report that “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” (11:5). Of course one can hear the echoes of this week’s lesson from Isaiah, from Psalm 146, and from Luke 1:46b-55. Then Jesus pays tribute to his cousin as being the greatest prophet, the one foretold in Malachi 3:1. Yes, even as we wait during this season and sometimes question ourselves and others, we can take comfort from John’s story of doubt and questioning, as well as in Jesus’ response and his praise for John’s witness. Today’s gospel again proclaims YES in the midst of doubt and uncertainty.
No matter what lesson or lessons you use in crafting your sermon or lesson, let this third Sunday of Advent be a powerful YES in a world that so often cries no. We have great hope even in the face of doubt because God has said YES to us and to all of creation. Or, as Madeleine L’Engle so aptly wrote:
“To the impossible: Yes! Enter and penetrate O Spirit. Come and bless this hour: the star is late. Only the absurdity of love can break the bonds of hate.
“This is the irrational season when love blooms bright and wild. Had Mary been filled with reason there’d have been no room for the child.” (from Glimpses of Grace)
Let your worship today reflect the joy that is traditional for this Sunday. We can be joyous because of God’s amazing YES, because of Mary’s power-filled YES, and because of Jesus’ humble YES to the terms of incarnation. A question for worshipers to ponder is: What is your YES in response to this amazing gift of grace, mercy, and love?
How about considering doubt from John’s perspective today. Take a look at the gospel lesson. Have you ever wondered whether something is real or true when you can’t see it or be there or have all the facts? Imagine John in prison wondering whether his ministry was valid, if Jesus really is the Messiah. Can you relate to how John is feeling? What do you think about Jesus’ response to him? Suppose you are being sent back to John to assure him. Using the technology available to you today, what message might you craft? A video? A series of images? A podcast?
This week’s focus verse is James 5:7 – Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.
You will need a December calendar with the 25th circled prominently. Ask the children if they can guess what you’re waiting for. If they need a hint show them the calendar. Ask them if they have a hard time waiting for important days. How do they manage? What do they do to help the time pass? In James’ day the church was eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus. Some of them must have been mighty impatient, so James reminds them that they need to be like farmers who wait for the crop. So much is out of a farmer’s control. They wait on rain, they hope hail and wind won’t destroy tender crops, and they hope that pests stay away. James gives us a few good suggestions for what to do while we wait for Jesus: be patient, strengthen your hearts, and don’t grumble with each other. John also points out exemplary people of faith—the prophets—as examples to follow.
We don’t know when Jesus will come at last to make everything right, but we do know that Jesus has promised to be among us whenever two or more of us are together, in the bread and wine of communion, and in the waters of baptism. In fact, if you look around, you will see the image of Jesus reflected in other people. You will see examples of God’s amazing creativity and artistry in the created world around you. And best of all, when you look in the mirror, you will see a reflection of Jesus because, beloved child of God, you are created in God’s very own image.
Yes, it’s hard to wait for important days like Christmas and Easter and your birthday and baptismal anniversary, but we can try to be patient and follow James’ instructions to strengthen our hearts and live in harmony with one another. In the process we will see evidence of Jesus all around us, and that’s the best present of all. Finish with a blessing and simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
No, we’re not there yet, but Advent is more than halfway gone. It’s a reminder of how fast time passes and how fleeting our days really are. Be a good steward of your time, and celebrate the radical, impossible YES of Advent every single day.
Stewardship at Home
Your days may be filled with many things as Christmas draws nearer. Try to take some time each day—five or fifteen minutes—to sit quietly and breathe. Light a candle against the longer winter nights or pre-dawn shadows and listen for the Spirit’s words and wisdom for your life. Listen for ways that you are called to say a radical YES, and also listen for the ways you may be called to say a holy “no.”
2016 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2016/12/on-gods-hopeful-highway/
2013 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/12/life-is-a-highway/
2010 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2010/12/go-and-show-and-tell/
Images: Barney Moss; Quinn Dombrowski; and carumare of Pontormo, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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