The Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35: 1-10
Psalm 146: 4-9
James 5: 7-10
Matthew 11: 2-11
Several years ago one of my favourite newspaper columnists[i] wrote about how she loved going to Church on Christmas Eve, especially if there was a light snowfall that night. She wrote about how she loved to hear the nativity story and sing the Christmas carols familiar from her childhood. She wrote about how she would line up with the other members of the congregation and kneel before the altar, decorated with poinsettias, and receive Communion. She wrote about all this and then ended her column wondering why she bothered because even though she had grown up an Anglican, she had long ago stopped going to Church a long time ago because she didn’t believe a word of what was said in Church on Christmas Eve, or any other day for that matter.
What she loved was the ritual; the familiarity of the story; and the picture perfect Christmas card scene of a moonlight night with lots of bright stars and snow. For her, there was no sense that the ritual and the story could mean any more than a reminder of a simpler time in her life. What she loved, and these I hasten to add are my words and not hers, what she loved was the nostalgia of Christmases long ago.
Nostalgia can be a wonderful thing, and certainly I can get lost in day dreams of other times and other places in my life. I can have great fun remembering how things once were, or at least how I remember they once were. But nostalgia, as is clear from my newspaper columnist, and my own experience, is not the same as faith, and faith isn’t about being nostalgic. As people of faith we are not longing for some imagined time when life was simpler; when the ritual was comforting; when the story was familiar and you didn’t need a book or a leaflet to sing the hymns. No, as people of faith, what we are longing for is not some imagined time when life will be simpler, but a promised time when God’s reign of peace and judgement, salvation and light will be fulfilled.
As Christians, we long for that time that when:
the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy[ii]
and God’s promises are fulfilled.
Who that is blind, does not long to see and who that is deaf does not long to hear. Just as those who are lame long to leap and those who are speechless long to sing for joy so we long for God’s promised reign of peace and judgement, salvation and light not because we are nostalgic for simpler times but because we know our need. We know our need for God’s promised peace. We know our need for God’s promised judgement. We know our need for God’s promised salvation. We know our need for God’s promised light.
Part of our being Christian is not that we are nostalgic, but because we know our need: our need for peace; our need for judgement; our need for salvation; our need for light. We know our need, and we know that we cannot find it, fix it or make it on our own. Not only do we need peace, judgement, salvation and light but it must be brought, found, made and given to us.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother
Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to
be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man
and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him
in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as
your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear
a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”[iii]
He will save his people from their sins.
This is the promise of God: not that he will make life simpler but that God will save us, and salve us and heal us and forgive us from all that is broken and dis-eased in us.
During Advent, we look forward to a baby being born at Christmas, and who is not nostalgic about the birth of a baby? But what we long for is to be saved and salved and healed and forgiven, not by a baby, but by a saviour.
Who among us that is blind does not long to see? Or lame to walk? Or sick to be made well? Or deaf to hear? Or dead to be raised to new life?[iv] Who among us that is lost or alone does not long to be found? Or injured or in some way broken and afraid and does not long to be made whole and encouraged? Who among us does not need to forgive or be forgiven and long to speak and hear the words: I forgive you, I love you, you are mine? Who among us does not know our need of salvation?
It has been said, if you don’t know your need of salvation, you don’t need a saviour. If we don’t know that we are lost, how can we know we need to be found? If we don’t know we are sick or broken, how can we know we need to be healed? If we don’t know we need to forgive or be forgiven, how can we know we love or are loved? If we don’t know we are blind, or lame, or sick or deaf or dead, how can we know we need a saviour?
It’s easy to be nostalgic at Christmas, and many are, and probably some here today. I know I am. It’s not so easy to admit that I need something. That I have lost my way and someone needs to find me, even if it embarrasses me. That I am sick and broken and that someone needs to heal me, even if it injures my pride. That I have hurt or been hurt and I need to forgive or be forgiven even though the words stick in my mouth.
In Jesus, God has promised to find us, and heal us and love us. God has not promised us a simpler life but an abundant one,[v] and in that abundance we will find, not nostalgia but blessing “for blessed are those who know their need of God, for they will be given a saviour.”
“And you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
It’s not nostalgia we long for, but a saviour who will find us, and heal us and love us.
[i] Margaret Wente: Toronto Globe and Mail
[ii] Isaiah 35: 5, 6
[iii] Matthew 1: 18-21
[iv] Isaiah 35: 5, 6 and Matthew 11: 4, 5
[v] John 10: 10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
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