Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 3 Advent, 11 Dec. 2016
Year A RCL: Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:4-9; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
We see reminders everywhere that Christmas is around the corner. Among these reminders, we see the pink candle lighted on the Advent wreath to mark today as Rose Sunday, the half-way point in our Advent journey to Christmas.
Christmas is our special opportunity to give joyful thanks to God for God's coming to live among us to show us how to live fully with love, with compassion, how to live in Holy Community, as we hear James say in today's lesson: “Beloved, do not grumble against one another...”
When we live in Holy Community – reflecting God's Holy Unity – we work with God to fulfill what Isaiah tells us:
“The desert...shall blossom abundantly,
& rejoice with joy & singing.”
How lovely does this sound to you?
Sometimes that desert lives next door to you as a grumpy, sad person, thirsting for fuller life to blossom. Maybe this person sits near you in church!
What if you invite this person to sit with you?
Today’s scriptures take us centuries back in time & far away geographically, yet the information fits us in this century & in this place. We still have problems in the world & individually. We still have hopes. We still see glimpses of us “getting it right,” of finally learning how to live as God calls us to live humbly, with mercy, loving God fully, loving others as we love ourselves.
When we do this, we work with God, as we joyfully say in our Psalm, so that:
The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
The LORD loves the righteous; the LORD cares for the stranger,...sustains the orphan & widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked.
As the Body of Christ here, we are one way God does this work of justice & freeing, of bringing sight to the blind, lifting up those who are bowed down, loving the righteous, caring for strangers, orphans & widows. When we do this, we frustrate the wicked!
Our scriptures tell us: across the ages, across the globe, God keeps reaching out to God’s creation, reaching out to all people to draw them into God’s love. God calls us to reach out in Jesus' name to draw more people into God's love – this gift of joy & wonder we know through Jesus.
It is easier to SAY “the Good News of Jesus is for everyone” than to live this truth. It may be harder to share this Good News at this sometimes hectic season with all our to-do lists, traditions to uphold, & activities to attend.
How many have your house decorated for Christmas? How many have your tree up? What kinds of decorations do you have on it? Lights? All the same color lights? Tinsel? What kinds of ornaments? Angels? Snowflakes? Candy canes? What else? A star?. . . .[Other answers included: cats, dogs.]
Who has hung a nail on your tree as an ornament? Why? Why not?
I read in a gift catalog some people place a nail on their tree as an ornament to serve as a reminder “that the Christmas tree...foreshadows the Christ-tree [the Cross on Calvary that] only [Jesus] could decorate for us.”1
Only Jesus can decorate the Christ-tree of Calvary for us. For US – each of us: you, me, the irritating neighbor, the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the prisoner, the blind, the lame.
You & I know this Good News. You & I have this Good News to share – EVEN in this hectic season & all seasons.
This Good News is why Jesus says in today's Gospel John is the least in the kingdom of heaven.2 Wonderfully faithful as John is obeying God's call & speaking God's truth, he lacks the whole story of the depths of God's love.3 While he is still alive, John does not know the profound depth of God's love Jesus expresses on the Christ-tree. The saints in heaven know the whole story & live in God's profound love.
Even without having the full picture, John helps prepare the way for people to hear the message. Throughout the ages, God sends people as messengers to prepare the way for people to hear God's Good News & to learn God loves them.
Who prepared the way for you? Who helped you hear God's Good News: God loves you so totally, so profoundly that he dies for you on that decorated Christ-tree? Who prepared the way for that person so he or she could share God's Good News with you?
YOU have Good News to share. You & I individually & corporately as the Body of Christ have a message of Good News to share. Our message is: Jesus is risen & works among us & through us & LOVES us – LOVES us BIG time!
This is Good News to share.
Blessed are you when you share this Good News.
Blessed are you when you prepare the way for a person to hear God's Good News.
Blessed are you because Jesus’ works through you & this means, as our Gospel today says, the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead live again, & the poor have Good News.
And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at our message!
You have this Good News!
How can you keep it to yourself?
Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Vol. 2. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975.
Barclay, William. The Letters of James and Peter. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976.
The Catholic Company Christmas Gifts for Everyone. CatholicCompany.com. Charlotte, NC. Christmas Catalog of The Catholic Co. (Charlotte, NC). Also http://www.catholiccompany.com/ Accessed: 6 Dec. 2016.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Howard, Katherine L. Waiting in Joyful Hope: Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas 2005-2006 Year B. Harrisburg: Morehouse, 2005.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1970.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Villapando, José Manuel. La Virgen de Guadalupe: una biografía. México, D.F.: Editorial Planeta Mexicana. 2004.
2 Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Vol. 2. Pp. 6-7.
3 Ibid. P. 6.