There was once a young man who was to preach for the very first time. He had decided to learn his sermon by heart so that he wouldn’t be too focused on his notes. He was understandably nervous as he mounted the stairs to the pulpit. He gripped the sides of the podium, leaned forward, and proclaimed his text in a booming voice, “Behold! I come!” And then his mind went completely blank and he could not for the life of him remember what came next. So he gripped the pulpit even tighter, leaned forward and said it again, hoping that he would remember what followed: “Behold! I Come!”
Still nothing came. So, somewhat desperately this time, he said it a third time, “Behold! I come!”
With that, the front of the somewhat rickety podium gave way and he fell with a resounding crash at the feet of a few older ladies who were sitting in the front row. Where upon one of the women said in a ringing voice, “Well! At least he warned us!”
This past Tuesday I watched some of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service as it took place in the pouring rain in Johannesburg. As uncomfortable as it must have been to stand in the pouring rain, remember it is summer there and rain is seen as a blessing in a drought ravaged land. Anyhow, the downpour didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm.
I heard President Obama as he eulogized one of the giants of the 20th century. Mandela was a person who learned. Perhaps because of his almost 28 years in prison – or maybe because of it, to respect people on all sides of the opinion, racial and religious spectrum.
Born in obscurity in a tiny village in the Ciskai, near the tip of the great continent of Africa, and raised as a cattle herd-boy, he became a world figure and an icon of peace. It was largely he who brought about peaceful change to one of the most brutal regimes that plagued our planet for most of the last century. He was the embodiment of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an African term for the spirit of community – I am because we are. He will be remembered for his magnanimity if heart, his ability to forgive and his desire to bring reconciliation to the Rainbow Nation which is South Africa.
During this Advent season, we remember the birth of another giant of our world, who was also born in obscurity and who became the one who embodies God. We celebrate his initial coming and await his coming again.
John, in prison, perhaps expecting imminent execution, sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for someone else?” I wonder what prompted this question? Could it be that he was wanting to give his disciples an introduction to Jesus so they could follow Jesus after his death? Or perhaps he just wanted reassurance at a very scary time in his life?
Jesus answers him by telling John’s people to see and hear what Jesus is doing and saying: The blind recover their sight
The lame walk Lepers are cured
The deaf hear
The dead are raised to life
And the poor have the good news preached to them.
These are the words from Jesus’ manifesto with which he started his ministry. I found it very interesting to note how many times these words are repeated in scripture. We read them in Psalm 146, Luke 4 where he quotes Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of God’s favor.”
And we read them in Matthew 11 and in today’s Hebrew Scripture lesson - Isaiah 35: which reads: “Strengthen your feeble hands, steady knees that are weak; say to the anxious, “Be strong and fear not; your God is coming.”
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared; the lame will leap like a deer and the tongue of the speechless will shout for joy…
” Jesus did heal people physically and there are sometimes miraculous healings today too - During our Silent Retreat last week-end, Merrill Carrington described the result of her husband’s cataract surgery. It is nothing short of miraculous. His blurred, fuzzy vision became clear and his ability to see colors was intensified. I know that there are people here today who need a healing touch from God at this time – and I am grateful for all who intercede so regularly for them. But I am not preaching about physical healing today.
Jesus does give physical healing (perhaps someday we should have a testimony time to give people an opportunity to share the many ways God has answered prayer). But he doesn’t only give physical healing he gives spiritual healing too.
The spiritually blind recover their sight. Perhaps some of us need to have our spiritual cataracts operated on so we can see our relationship to God in a new light; can see the impossibilities in our lives in and new way; can see new solutions to difficult problems. God can heal foggy, distorted vision caused by spiritual cataracts.
In the same way we can think about God healing lepers – the unclean and socially unacceptable; or - those deaf to the things of God can be helped to hear; those who are spiritually dead can be raised to new life in Christ; and good news preached needs to be preached to us all. In fact, Advent is just the time we need to hear God’s Good News loudly enough to drown out some of the commercial noise which hides the real reason for this season!
Marcus Borg, in the epilogue of his book Jesus gives us three phrases which put this season’s Good News into context for us.
1. The first is a question which was asked over 100 years ago in a book by Charles Sheldon called In His Steps. This question has become very popular and some people even have jewelry with the letters WWJD – What Would Jesus DO? It is a good question and the answer is different for each one of us and is dependent on what we think of what we think Jesus was like. Who is your Jesus? I remember Gordon telling us of the time he was invited to speak to a gathering of ministers about Jesus. He said in gruff way, “If you tell me who your Jesus is, I’ll tell you who mine is.” And he sat down.
What would Jesus do in this hectic 21st Century? How much time would he spend in prayer and contemplation? What would he do in this extremely commercial environment? In what ways would his passion for truth, justice and non-violence be lived out?
2. The second phrase is a very familiar one – so familiar that we might forget its powerful truth for each one of us. It was Karl Barth who reminded us of its import: Barth was one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He wrote voluminously – including a ten-volume intellectually brilliant and exceedingly dense systematic theology of several thousand pages. Early in the 1960s when he was in his seventies, he made just one visit to the US. At a press conference a reporter asked him if he could sum up his thousands of pages of theology in one statement simple enough for the general public to understand. And he said, : “Jesus loves me – this I know!” What does this simple but profound sentence mean to you now, today? And what will you do about it? How do we love Jesus back? By loving what Jesus loved. 3. The third one comes from John’s Gospel verse 16 chapter
3. We know it so well! “God loved the world so much that God gave Jesus so that everyone may not perish but have eternal life.”
a. God loves the world – the whole world and all its inhabitants. God loves this creation and the community of all life. God loves our planet. God loves us.
b. How much does God love the world? So much that God asked the Word to become flesh and live amongst us. Our God contracted to a span incomparably made human! This is the miracle of the Incarnation. Of this season we now prepare to celebrate.
c. So that everyone who believes in him – not just an intellectual assertion but an actual beloving of him: commitment, loyalty, faithfulness, allegiance and trust in him.
d. So that we may not perish but have eternal live. This phrase does not refer specifically to the after-life – but to quality of life right now. Jesus is the resurrection and the life right now. The dead can be raised to new live in him!
These 3 points are what I would like us to remember and work with this week: Jesus loves me - this I know and God love the whole world as well so – WWJ have us Do this Advent and Christmas time? AMEN
Borg, Marcus; JESUS-covering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary 2006; page 304 Barclay, William; Commentary on The Books of Matthew Volume2 and Luke.