Below are excerpts of the sermon Rev. Dr. William F. Brosend preached on Dec. 8 at St. Matthew’s. (Listen to sermon)
I know it’s still Advent, but I’m worried about Christmas. Aren’t you? The war on Christmas and all that?
You would think the Lord God Almighty could take care of Herself on this one, but I guess we should be grateful we have the media to keep watch on God’s fortunes…
And this is not something Fox News dreamed up, you know. Mixed messages about “Messiah” are at least 2,000 years old.
Biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine says a question she’s always being asked is, “Why didn’t the Jews believe Jesus was the Messiah”? Now setting aside the fact that all the people who first believed Jesus was Messiah WERE in fact Jews, there’s a good question in there. And it’s a question Isaiah put to us as well.
It’s not the question that you might imagine, though. It goes like this: Why did none of the things that First Century Jews expect to happen when Messiah came happen when Jesus came?
If you want to sharpen the question even more, you could ask it this way: Why did almost none of the things Jesus himself said would happen (in the fourth chapter of Luke) happen?
John the Baptist, putting it in his own idiosyncratic way, would say ‘”why is no one bearing fruitss of repentance to prepare the way of the Lord?” (Matthew 3:8).
First-century Jews had a set of expectations about what would happen when Messiah came. And we Christians have a similar set of expectations about what we think is going to happen when Messiah comes back in “the Second Coming”.
That list of expectations would sound familiar to Isaiah: the dead would be raised, the sick would be healed, the poor and and oppressed cared for, prisoners will be set free and universal peace will fill the earth, the wolf and lamb shall lie down together…the little child shall play on the hole where the asp lives…
Did this happen when Jesus showed up? Sort of. But not really on a global scale. So what does that mean? I think thats a legitimate question. Here’s an even better question: Do you believe that Jesus is the messiah?
And now, my last question:
Whether or not one believes Jesus is Messiah is a mostly straightforward question, with a fairly simple answer, so long as we all agree on what we mean by “Messiah.” But I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in The “so what”? part after we’ve all agreed.
I have a friend who used to tell bedtime stories to his little sister. He would get to the end of the story and she would say, “and then what happened?” And he would make something up, and when he finished that she’d say, “yes, and then what happened?”
Sometimes I think God is looking at us and saying, “You know, I’m really glad you believe Jesus is Messiah. I do, too! And then what happens?”
We look at God and say, “Well, isn’t that kind of up to you? You’re God! We can’t raise the dead or heal the sick!”
God says, “Got it! But…. you know … you could be a little more present to them in their dying and their illnesses and all those other things that Jesus and Paul talk about. You could get on those, y’know? Or help the oppressed? Or the prisoners?”
I believe Jesus is Messiah.
And then what happens?
We’re a little stuck, because the grammar is actually working against us. When Isaiah and John the Baptist say “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” they’re not saying “Get ready for Christmas.” They’re not talking about cookies or cards. They’re saying, “All y’all PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD!”
And we say, “WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THAT!”
And what John the Baptist says to that is, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance”!
So… what’s THAT look like?
It’s not a mystery, the things Jesus talked about, that John talked about, that Isaiah said were going happen when Messiah came: The poor, the oppressed, the prisoner, the sick, the dying, the lonely — those people need us to PREPARE THE WAY that the Lord can come to them!
When Messiah comes, stuff happens!
Lately my family and I have been spending a lot of time down in Texas at the border. We have a friend there who has a parish that just charges us up and shows us what “church” can be. They have seven church services on weekends, standing room only, 4 in English, 3 in Spanish, thousands coming to the community each weekend. One and a half priests, one deacon, and 72 ministries all run by volunteers (there’s no money to pay anyone). They have ministries to the undocumented, to the unemployed. They have respite care for those caring for family members with Alzheimer’s. They have English studies. Youth groups.
And people flock to them! They stand in the aisles at the services! College kids come! Why? Because Messiah is THERE! You can feel it!
When Messiah comes, stuff happens. And we act too much like it is stuff God is supposed to do – but no, it’s stuff we’re supposed to do.
Do you believe Jesus is Messiah?
Then do the stuff!
The Rev. Dr. William F. Brosend II is Professor of Homiletics at Sewanee University School of Theology and Director of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation.