“Good News for Weary Hearts”

December 11, 2016


Isaiah 35:1‑10

Matthew 11:2‑11


About this time of year it's expected that sincere and earnest ministers will take a sermonic look around at what's happening as we get ready to celebrate Christmas. And generally ministers talk about the same thing each year:

the buying and selling,

            the running around,

                        the stress caused by the desire to “get it right” this year

On days like this, we clergy usually speak out against the “Commercialization of Christmas.” We decry the materialism and encourage people to think about the spiritual significance that lies beyond the decorations and the parties.

This is all very good and necessary, perhaps. The spirit, the life force of this season can be covered up by tinsel and drowned out by the din at Coral Ridge.

But then you and I listen again to the Bible. And with our ears and hearts open, we notice that—at least on the surface—there is very little that is “spiritual” in the scripture lessons that we heard this morning.

From the hot, burning sands of Isaiah's desert

            to the cold, dark walls of John the Baptist's prison cell

we’re struck by and stuck with a material rather than a spiritual world.

“Strengthen the weak hands . . . make firm the feeble knees.”

“The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear…”

These are words that speak of our physical bodies,.

These are words that tell of the transformation of the concrete, material world that we can see and touch.

These are words of good news that come to all who are burdened by “life’s crushing load.”

If we start out by looking for something spiritual in this season, we may miss everything it has to offer.  If we begin with the physical world in which we live, we may yet find the refreshment and renewal of our spirits in this often hectic time. After all, the sign given to the shepherds near Bethlehem was not some vaguely spiritual feeling but a baby—a baby of all things—wrapped up and lying in a manger. God entered this world, taking on human flesh.

From prison John the Baptist sends word by his disciples, asking Jesus: “Are you the

One who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Perhaps we can understand his confusion:

John asked the people: Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?

Jesus told them: “Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers.”

John ate locusts and wild honey in the wilderness.

Jesus came into the towns eating and drinking—and with the worst type of people at that.

John told the people the end was near.

Jesus announced that a new beginning was even nearer.

Perhaps there were just too many contradictions for poor John in that miserable prison cell.

So John sends his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the One who is to come, or should we wait for another?”

John speaks here as a representative of all people—including us. “Should we wait? Are our expectations too high? Or do we still need to wait for something more, someone better?

You know that nagging question, don’t you?

We look around. Christ has come. But things aren’t right—even now, especially now.

At times the pain and despair and regret that we feel can seem overwhelming. We long for something different for ourselves. We hope for a new way of living, to be able to love others fully and to be loved in return as well.

We want something more for others, too. We are worn down by the harsh violence and the grinding poverty and the mindless greed lose in the world. We see how things could be—and with Isaiah dream of deserts blossoming, the eyes of the blind opening, the tongues of the speechless singing for joy.

We hope with Isaiah.

But with John, we wonder: should we wait for another?

It is a straightforward question. But Jesus, as usual, doesn’t give a “yes” or “no” answer.

Instead, Jesus tells those who ask the question: open your eyes and ears: “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, the poor have good news brought to them.”

And the word that comes to us this morning tells us that the wholeness of life that God brings is not just in our hearts. Consider, Jesus tell us, Consider what you hear and see.

Remember “show and tell” in grade school? A student brings something and talks to the class about it. The fullness of life that God brings is seen and heard and touched—it’s show and tell. God can transform the deserts of trial and suffering in your life and in the world into places of rejoicing and renewal.

Look and listen. In a world of broken, hurting people, God gives sight to the blind, helps the lame to walk, heals the sick, raises the dead and even brings good news to the poor. We participate in this when we pray for those who are ill, when we open our church and offer tutoring to refugees, when we join with people of many faiths in providing money and materials to support the efforts at Standing Rock.

In a world where evil is met with passive resignation, God equips us for active struggle with forces that lay waste and dehumanize. We participate in that salvation by individual acts of kindness and compassion—helping the desert blossom in the life of someone who is having a difficult time—by efforts to understand rather than condemn people who are different from us, by opening spaces in our own lives and allowing God to renew us.

We are empowered and challenged.

People inside and outside of the church are asking: In these days of widespread incivility, is there any place where human beings are still treated with dignity and respect? Is there any place where we can find the health and strength to make a difference in the world?”

When John finds himself isolated and unable to see and hear all the wonders that are happening, when he is unable to see the new age dawning, his disciples go to his prison cell and tell him what they have seen and heard.

We are called and equipped to do the same, to say “Yes, you can find a place of healing and strength, you can find a place of dignity and respect in this community of Christians.”

It's never easy, because—and you know this—even at our best congregations are flawed, imperfect groups of flawed, imperfect people. But

            if we have seen the sick healed, the broken made whole,

                        if we have heard good news spoken,

if we have ever had any sense that the living Christ is here at work among us,

if we have found it possible to stand up for what is right, to choose love over hate, the way of peace over violence,

then we are challenged to show this in our lives, our actions.

The good news of the prophets, the good news of Jesus Christ is for those who are not satisfied with the way things are. That is, the good news is for you and me.

The words of the prophet Isaiah: “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘be strong, do not fear!’ God will come and save you.”

If these words could be spoken honestly, they would surely be good news to many people. There are times when each of us grows weak, when each of us is frightened.

Isaiah tells of wondrous visions, the desert blossoms with flowers, the lame begin to dance, the burning sand becomes a pool.  This is good news, but can we hear it?  The Good news comes to exiles: the way home is being prepared.

On this road we let forgiveness replace bitterness and resentment in our hearts so that flowers might bloom where there was once a desert of strife and hatred. We let God redeem past failures so that a new way can be found where once no way at all seemed possible.

On this road our weakness encounters God's strength, on this road our fear meets God's courage.

On this road we meet the living Christ.

This is ultimately a way on which sorrow and sighing flee away.

According to Isaiah, the way that God chooses is ultimately a way of joy. Those who wait will look up and see joy coming. Those who prepare for that way will find joy as they follow the Christ who goes ahead of us.

Advent invites us to prepare for a new world, a new way of life. Bring to this preparation all your disappointments, all your hurt, all your fearful hopes for something different. Join with those who wait, speaking words of encouragement to one another as we review our past and anticipate the future.

So go out this week and enjoy the shopping, the preparations, the crowds, the music, and the lights. In the midst of all of it, God is still at work, transforming us, transforming the world so that the wastelands will blossom and flourish. Rejoice in the goodness of this created world, for this is the world into which God comes in Jesus, born in Bethlehem, in Jesus, the hope of those who would rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.