God's Word on Sunday: A little digging reveals news full of hope

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  • December 8, 2019

Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 15 (Year A) Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

What are the signs of God’s presence? What sort of “footprints and fingerprints” does God leave? One word could sum it up: life. 

This life has many dimensions — life where there was death; wholeness in place of brokenness; peace and harmony in place of division and hatred; hope in place of despair; healing in place of brokenness, and reconciliation in place of opposition and anger. Isaiah uses images that were vivid and meaningful in a harsh climate — the coming to life and blossoming of a desert that has finally been watered. 

When the people behold their God, they will be strengthened and healed, but most of all, they will lose their fear. “Be strong, do not fear!” was God’s word to the people then and it is also directed to us now. 

Startling promises were made: the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped, and the lame will leap like a deer. The greatest gift of all will be the joy and gladness experienced by the people. 

This is what God is — life — and the many fearful and negative images people might have of God are human projections. Wherever God is, there is life. 

So where is God in our world? We hear much about God’s absence, but clearly, we are not seeing or hearing the way we should. If we can pry our eyes and ears away from news that is sensational, inflammatory and negative, we will begin to see that God is alive and active in the world. 

If we dig a bit, the news is also full of hope — countless individuals and groups that labour selflessly to bring hope and comfort to others and healing to our world. Look around — the real news is on the street and it’s quiet and underplayed, consisting of the interactions of kindness between nameless people. 

Add to that those that rise above incredible adversity with their dignity and joy intact and eager to reach out to those in need, and we see that God indeed walks in our midst. 

Do we join God, or continue walking in suffocating gloom and negativity?

James would add something that is necessary for all of this: patience. Patience is not resignation or “putting up with it,” but waiting on God with inner peace, hope, kindness and compassion. Patience is in short supply today. We want what we want and we want it now, as one commercial jingle put it recently. Results are expected and according to our timetable. That is not how things work in God’s kingdom.

John the Baptist knew that he would never leave the prison alive. Something tormented him: Is Jesus the Messiah or did we make a mistake? Should we keep looking? 

So, he sent messengers to put that question to Jesus. As was often His practice, Jesus did not answer directly by giving a yes or no reply. Instead, Jesus described the sort of things that accompanied His ministry: the dead were raised, the blind and deaf had sight and hearing restored, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed and the poor received hope-filled good news. 

Knowing that John was steeped in the Hebrew scriptures, He posed the question: What does it look like to you? There was new life, healing, wholeness and hope wherever He went in His ministry. 

Jesus was aware that some were put off by Him because He didn’t fit their image of a Messiah. He chided them a bit, for people were never satisfied. They criticized John the Baptist for being a fierce and ascetical prophet. Some expected that he would be flashier, perhaps the first-century equivalent of a well-dressed and coiffed TV evangelist. 

We miss so much because of our expectations — we reject gifts that are placed right before our eyes. He challenged them to lay aside their expectations and preconceptions and look for the signs of God’s presence instead. 

John the Baptist was the finest man ever born and yet he was nothing compared to what God was preparing for humankind. The least born in the kingdom of God surpasses the best-born of the Earth. 

God’s notion of authentic humanity is very different from our own. We cannot begin to imagine what God has prepared for us if we are willing.

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