Where is your joy?
#WhereIsYourJoy is the podcast for December 15, 2019 What does it mean “it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas?” To John the Baptist, that meant something totally different Listen here FREE and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Matthew11 #FiveandTen #ItsBeginningToLookALotLikeChristmas #Sin #Savior #Incarnation #Prophecy #Malachi #Isaiah #Joy #GaudeteSunday
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 12/15/2019 The 3rd Sunday of Advent.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 11:2-11.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Everywhere you go;
Take a look in the five and ten glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in every store
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.
What does Christmas look like? Glistening stores? Candy canes? Toys in every store? Holly on the front door? We are in Advent as the Church. We are asking questions about the Messiah who has come and is to come again. The Gospel Lesson for this Sunday has John the Baptist in prison for telling Herod that he could not have his brother’s wife Herodias as his spouse because, well she is his brother’s wife!
We ought to note that John is in prison for speaking truth to power. Are we still under the fantasy that following God is about living a perfect stress free life? Also, have we disabused ourselves that we live in a time that is more evil or more immoral than any other? If we do, we have not read history. It was in 452 A.D. that Atilla the Hun stood at Rome’s doorstep after driving many peoples into Europe from Central Asia because of their violence. There have been invasions, refugees, resettlements, and genocide throughout the history of humanity. I might mention that it was Leo I, the pope at the time, who convinced Attila to sack Rome, but not kill its inhabitants. This was highly unsual.
Why am I meandering through history and talking about candy canes and tinsel? I am doing these things because it is just like humanity to delude ourselves. We often want ourselves to believe things that are just not true. We celebrate “commercial-mas” during Advent, singing songs about how great the store looks when they are dressed up to sell us stuff to open on the morning of December 25th. We act like the purpose of the Season is to make sure that all stores are black on Black Friday.
Christmas is actually the coming of Christ, the Messiah, the one who is going to save humanity from genocide, fleeing wars, invasions, and all the violence that comes with it. Christmas is the celebration of the coming of Christ, the Messiah, who is going to save us from shacking up with our brother’s wife and calling it “all good,” and other stuff like that, um, sin. Christmas is the celebration of the coming of Christ, the Messiah, who is going to fulfill all Scripture.
So, for John the Baptist, who sits in prison for proclaiming the truth of the Gospel to kingdoms, authorities, principalities, and power, understanding the meaning of Christmas is important. The coming of the Messiah is what he is all about.
Is our anticipation and joy about the stores looking shiny and tinsely so that we spend, spend, spend? Is our joy and contentment in getting a Red Rider Range 200 Shot BB Gun that we really wanted for Christmas? Or, is our anticipation at Christmas, after toiling in our sin, the salvation of our souls and the redemption of the world coming as the God-man? Which one is our true joy, this Gaudete Sunday?
John, from prison, sends his disciples to ask Jesus a simple question, “Are you the one who is to come?” “The one who is to come” was a phrase that alludes to Psalm 118 and refers to the Messiah. The Messiah is “the one who is to come.” John is asking, “Are you the Messiah?” “Are you the Savior of the World?” Jesus’ answer is more than what John bargained. Jesus replies that he is not just the Messiah.
The commentaries and notes at the bottom of the page of our Bibles refer to Jesus’ answer as referring to Isaiah 35:5-6. That reads, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Usually, when sentences begin with “Then” I want to know what does this passage I am reading follow. Isaiah 35:4, which precedes this passage, says this, “Behold, your God will come with a vengeance”…and THEN, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” He will come with a vengeance to heal everyone, restore everyone to what we were in the Garden of Eden. God himself will come to restore us to the image and likeness of God himself!
So, when John sends his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come?” Jesus doesn’t just say, “yes”, he says, “not only that, but I am God who has come to make the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the mute speak.” It is truly a remarkable statement. He is saying that not only is he the one who has come to do the dirty work of saving humanity, but that the one who will do the dirty work of saving humanity is God himself.
Most gods, with a small ‘g’, make humans exert their own will to be good enough. Most gods, as humans have conceived them, require animal sacrifice, human sacrifice, and all kinds of hardship and pain BEFORE the god may or may not accept them. We often still operate under this delusion. We still think we have to be good enough, worthy enough, pray enough, fast enough, go to Confession enough, or do all kinds of hoop jumping to meet the requirements of a god who is STILL angry at us after all our struggle.
Jesus puts this notion on its head. He is saying that not only is he the Messiah who has come to save, but he is God who is willing to do the heavy lifting. He is God who is willing to become one of us. He is willing to suffer like us. He is willing to live the life we live to condescend in a non-condescending way. He is one of us. He struggles with sin like us. He will lead us to salvation as God who has taken on human flesh, human will, human “vesture” says the Advent Hymn.
So, God is not wanting us to struggle to become perfect and then present ourselves to him. The coming of God as a human to be our Messiah says that God wants us to present ourselves to him just as we are and he will transform us. He will truly save us from within. Subsequently, this is why we baptize infants. He does the changing.
The gift that is awaiting us is that we do not have to be good enough. We do not have to be successful. We do not have to make ourselves worthy. We do not have bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We just need to bring ourselves broken, sinful, unworthy, and human to the King of kings, Lord of lords who has come down to be our Messiah.
Even more, Jesus goes on to ask what it was exactly we came out to see in John the Baptist. Did we come to see a pushover, a reed blown by the wind? Did we come to see ten easy steps to success shown by the bling he was wearing in soft clothing? In other words, did we go to the wilderness to hear John as a spectacle? Are we looking for WWE, FoxNews, MSNBC, or the Super Bowl? What exactly were we going to see? Jesus asks, “Did you go out to see a prophet?” If so, what a prophet we beheld in John the Baptist!
He is the one who fulfills the prophet Malachi who says that there will be a messenger of God sent before “my face”, meaning “God’s face.” There it is in Malachi, the prophet sent before the Messiah is sent before the very face of God, who we now know to be Jesus Christ. Jesus is saying that John is that prophet. He is the prophet of prophets who comes to prepare the way of the Lord. That prophet was understood to be Elijah who did not die, but was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. John is Elijah who was to come.
Let me recap. John and Jesus are the ones who fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah was to come. The prophecy that we now see says that the prophet will precede the face of God in human form. That God-man is Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Son of Man. He is the one who is to come. On this Gaudete Sunday, the Joyful Sunday, when we light the pink candle, do we rejoice in the commercial bling of a commercial season of Advent, or do we rejoice that the Savior to be born in a week and a half is the Savior of the world, our Savior?
Under the tree in the Grand Hotel, the one in the park as well, and the one in our home, where is our joy? Is our joy in the anticipated coming of the gifts under that tree? Or, is our joy in the anticipation of the coming of the Messiah and his coming again? Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of glory, God of love. Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above. Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; Drive the dark of doubt away; Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day. Amen.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian