For Sunday, 12.15.19
Isaiah 35:1-10 • Psalm 146:5-10 • Luke 1:46b-55 • James 5:7-10 • Matthew 11:2-11
Psalm 146:5-10 (Responsive Reading)
Psalm 146 has been called a summary of the entire Bible. If you back up to the beginning of the chapter you see a call to worship God followed by an explanation why we worship the unseen God instead of a King, Prince, or any Person – because those humans are just like us….we/they all come from the dust and will return to the dust. Then we have an explanation what it means to us when our trust is in God and our praise is to God. A preparatory statement about the coming Messiah (Jesus) rounds out the Psalm which ends where it starts – Praising God.
While most of Isaiah is a call to the people to turn back to God, chapter 35 seems to give them a glimpse of what is waiting when they return. Their eventual is described as a desert blooming after a long drought which will back every element of life that has been absent. The prophet speaks of the return involving a ‘highway’ which is a holy path where there is no wickedness – a highway that will be clear and understandable for those who choose to travel on it. While the ‘highway’ was a description of what was awaiting the people after their time of correction and return, it is an equally a portrayal of our salvation journey.
Our Luke passage is a song penned, and sung, by the young teenager – Mary, as she settled into the reality of God’s radical plan for her life. While this is often portrayed, and sung, in a very passive and sweet tone, it is actually very bold and a defiant message of a young girl as she sits at the intersection of God’s plan and the expectations of her world. Mary, singing or voicing, her inward submission and acceptance of God’s will, is following a long tradition of defiant speaking/singing (see Exodus 15:1bc; 13, 1 Samuel 2:4-5, 7; and verses 7-9 of our Psalm for this week). In voicing her acceptance of God’s plan, Mary says that ‘God has done’ great things for me’ – a statement that is surely bizarre for a young teenager who is about to see her life turned upside down. Facing rejection, isolation, loneliness, humiliation, judgement, condemnation, and hatred, Mary’s faith and acceptance of God’s path is based on what she knows of God and her trust in him. Mary has an amazing grasp on God’s love and is able to surrender the entirety of her life to his will.
This passage from James may seem oddly placed in the middle of the Advent season. James is calling the readers, a people who were clearly facing their own times of difficulty and trials, to wait patiently for the return of Christ. While it may be odd, the message is very clearly a call to believers from the time of creation. The question ‘where is my hope, where is by strength, where is my rescue?’ is the question of humanity. It was the quest of the Israelites as they waited for God’s rescue from the exile and slavery, it was the quest as the faithful looked forward to the coming Messiah, and it is our quest as we await the return of Christ. James’ call to the people is to be patient while they continue on with life, treat others with love and respect, and to trust God throughout their trials, victories, and life.
Our gospel passage takes us over three decades beyond the nativity to John the Baptist who is at an extreme low point. A ruler (Herod) has imprisoned John and, unbeknown to John, will soon have him beheaded. John is wondering about everything, doubt and desperation are present as he is asks if he was right to trust that Jesus was, and is, the promised Messiah. In his own reality of exhaustion and fear, John, understandably, needs affirmation that he has not followed the wrong path; he needs to know that he has been on the correct highway (see our Isaiah passage). The interesting response of Jesus Christ is not to proclaim the miracles he has performed, he does not point to the attention of powerful and rich people he has received, nor does he list the ways in which he has fulfilled the prophecies – instead, Jesus says ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’ Jesus proves himself by reminding John of the life and acts of love, mercy, compassion, and grace. Jesus then gives John a gentle affirmation in reminding him of God’s love that has been, in particular, directed at John throughout, and even before, his life, and in no lesser way; Jesus reveals to John that this love is even more at work during this time of isolation. Sometimes we need a reminder of love when hope and peace seems fleeting.