3rd Sunday in Advent, 2013
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabus Anglican Church
December 15, 2013
“Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” From the Gospel for
today, this is the question that John the Baptist had his disciples ask Jesus.
Recall that at this time, he was a guest of the local Herodian government, although we can rightly guess that his accommodations were hardly satisfactory…
I imagine that nobody in this room has ever been imprisoned. It has to be very, very hard, even if one has done the crime. Imagine how difficult it would be if one was denied their freedom for having done the right thing, as was the case with John the Baptizer! Recall that Herod had shut him up in prison, mainly because he criticized the king for marrying his brother’s Phillip’s wife, Herodias. He had denounced him publicly, and rightly so. In so doing, he also incurred Herodias’ undying hatred, which would later cause him to be beheaded. We can observe here that an ungodly spirit, when provoked, is especially vehement in its persecution of its righteous critics.
Let us remember that this is the same John, who was imbued with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. Recall the passage in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke:
Luke 1:41-42 41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
This is also the same John who, when asked by the priests and Levites if he was the Christ, the Jew’s promised Messiah, answered in the words of John’s gospel: John 1:20 “And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.” John refused to take any credit for himself, but instead testified of Christ, when he said: (Luke 3:16) “I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”
Finally, this is the same John, who, even after a lifetime of looking for Christ and having baptized Him in the river Jordan, asked the question, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”
Is this just the moment of doubt of some early New Testament prophet, or does it have application to us today? Might we even say that many people ask this same question, especially at this time of year. Every year, we go through the same “culture wars” over Christmas. The secularists fight against public displays of Christmas, and most people satisfy themselves with saying “Happy Holidays”, so that they can’t be accused of being politically incorrect.
And on and on it goes….. today is the Third Sunday in Advent. Advent, as we mentioned a couple of weeks earlier, has actually become a four-week celebration of Christmas, at least commercially and in occasions such as office parties and the like. Many companies are having, or have had, their “Holiday Parties” already. Of course soon, we will hear the usual mis-information about the 12 days of Christmas, which to the undiscerning public, begins on December 13 and extends until the 25th. We have all been bombarded with Christmas (or “Holiday”) ads since before Thanksgiving, which is never a very popular holiday with the mercantile class, because they can’t commercialize it very much.
Thus, one can see why some, maybe many people just want to get Christmas “over with.” Of course, immediately after Christmas, the drumbeat will begin for New Years, and the World will lurch towards the parties that mostly meaningless holiday brings.
Enough….without belaboring the point, we think the reason that many folks tire of Christmas before it occurs is because they focus on the wrong things. Celebrations, parties, gifts, trees, and decorations fill our thoughts and our efforts, crowding out the real reason for the season. That reason, of course, is the Nativity of our blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the One of which Isaiah spoke when he said, “Isaiah 11:10: ”And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.”
The very real and valuable way to enjoy Christmas is to stay focused on the Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, True God of true God, and true Light of Light, who come into this dark world to be with us, Immanuel. When we focus on this, to the best of our ability, and despite the commercial “clutter” around us, we Christians will still enjoy peace and “his (our) rest shall be glorious.”
We feel deeply that one of our goals as Christians should be to rest in the Lord all year round. As we focus on the Church year and as we celebrate the major events in Christ’s earthly ministry, we will find our earthly sojourn takes on greater and greater meaning. Life, even ordinary life, becomes more meaningful and valuable.
Let us consider this: there are five major events in the life of Christ, after which the Church has patterned her year. These are, of course, the Incarnation, the Nativity, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, all of which carry special significance to us Christians, for they are the very “stuff” of which our faith is constructed.
This season we celebrate the second of these major events, the Nativity, or the First Coming of Christ. Its significance is without parallel, for now Jesus, the very Word made Flesh, has come to live as one of us. It is not as some anti-Christian groups claim as a charge against Christianity, that we presume to think that man became God, but rather the glorious reverse. God became man and “dwelt among us, full of grace and truth”, to quote
. Thus, Christianity is very much “top down”,
that is, Grace and truth flow downwards from God to man. We Christians believe
that we do not dictate to God, but He to us through His Holy Word. We have not
attempted to make man into God, but God has stooped to become St. John This
is important. This is fundamental and it is truly profound, for this is the
real celebration of Christmas. Man.
Let’s return to John the Baptizer for a moment. Lying in the dark in Herod’s
dungeon, perhaps chained to a wall in his dank cell, he had heard of Jesus’ mighty works from his visitors and disciples. Perhaps John sensed that his time was short. Perhaps he sensed that his mission on this earth was drawing to a close. Maybe he questioned, “Is this the one for whom I have prophesied all my life?” We don’t know. What we do know, however, from Matthew’s account was that he asked a question, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”
We know that he received his answer when Christ told the messengers: (Mat 11:4-6) “Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” Glory be to God the Father, and to God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and forever. AMEN