Pastor Sherry’s message for December 11, 2022
Scriptures: Isa 35:1-10; Lk 1:47-55; Ja 5: 7-10; Matt 11:2-11
The story is told of a baby boy born into the Lane family in 1958. The father, a man named Robert, chose to name his boy Winner. How could the young man fail to succeed with a name like “Winner Lane”?
Several years passed and the Lanes had another son. For unknown reasons (this is a true story), Robert named this boy “Loser.” What a terrible thing to do to the baby—(like Johnny Cash’s “A Boy named Sue”)—Robert and his silent wife seemed to have doomed their 2nd son’s prospects. I wonder how many years he spent in counseling trying to overcome that moniker.
Of course, everyone who knew the boys probably thought they could figure out how they would turn out. After all, the psychological concept of the “Self-fulfilling Prophecy”–or you get what you expect from a child–is well known (Consider the “Pygmalion in the Classroom” research in which 4th grade teachers were told their students were brilliant—when they were actually ordinary—and watched how they treated these kids. By year’s end, those kids had performed excellently and had even raised their IQ points, demonstrating that teachers’ expectations had an important effect on kids’ performance.)
But contrary to everyone’s prophecies, Loser Lane succeeded. He graduated from college and later became a sergeant with the NYPD, shield # 2762. Nowadays, no one feels comfortable calling him “Loser.” His colleagues simply refer to him as “Lou.”
And what about the other brother? The one everyone expected to be a great success? The most noteworthy achievement of Winner Lane is the sheer length of his criminal record. Inmate #OOR28Q7 has nearly three dozen arrests for burglary, domestic violence, trespassing, resisting arrest, and other assorted acts of mayhem. Sometimes things don’t quite turn out as we might expect.
(Borrowed from Tom Hughes, Down to Earth: How Jesus’ Stories Can Change Your Everyday Life, NavPress, 2019, p.13).
These examples demonstrate that we need to be careful about what we expect of our children and of others. Often our expectations may be too high or too low. They can put emotional pressure on those we love and thus limit or frustrate them, disappointing them and us. This time of year, we also tend to have expectations of Christmas which may or may not be appropriate.
The best way to keep our Advent expectations realistic is to check them against what Scripture records and predicts:
A. Our psalm this morning is the Song of Mary, also known as “The Magnificat” (Luke 1:47-55). (The custom in the early church was to name psalms after the Latin rendering of the 1st word or two; so, Magnificat for “My soul magnifies….” Notice: We would expect the whole psalm to say, “YIPPEE, God picked ME!” Young women from the tribe of Judah grew up wishing and believing they might be the one to bear the Messiah. And despite her challenges of being unmarried and poor, Mary does rejoice in God’s choice of her.
But the majority of her focus is on glorifying/praising God for what He is doing (through her) for His people! How mature! She wisely takes the focus off herself, and sets it upon God’s activity. She praises Him for His mercy to those who respect and revere Him; His past works of power; His surprising, unexpected propensity to reverse worldly fortunes (the low are raised up and the lofty are brought low); and for His fulfillment of His promises (Genesis 12, 17, and 22) to Israel: a king from the lineage of David; and a messiah who will bless all nations on earth.
What does Mary have to teach us about expectations? She had been raised to expect the Messiah to come. She knew from Scripture that He would redeem His people.
What does Mary have to teach us about love and joy (We lit the candle for joy today)? Because she loved God, she was willing to bear up under public criticism and condemnation. Because she loved God, she surrendered to His will. Because she loved God, she praised Him, with great joy, for keeping His promises to His people.
B. In our Gospel lesson today, Matthew 11:2-11, Jesus has sent the 12 out to put into practice all He has taught them. He, Himself, continues to preach and teach. JtB (John the Baptist) has been imprisoned for some time now, and—as often happens—he begins to doubt his earlier faith that his cousin Jesus is the Messiah. He deploys 2 disciples to ask Jesus (v.3) Are You the One who was to come, or should we expect someone else?
No doubt JtB expected Jesus to set him free. Jesus does not do so. Instead He reiterates His job description from Isaiah 61:1: the blind see; the lame walk; lepers are healed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised to life; and the Good News is preached to the poor. Because He avoids saying He will…proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, JtB learns Jesus will not be leading his jail break. The response comes back to him, “Yes, your cousin is the Messiah you proclaimed at the beginning of His earthly ministry. But no, He will not be supervising your prison release.”
Jesus does not meet JtB’s personal expectations. Apparently, it suited God’s purposes for JtB to leave the scene (decrease) so Jesus’ ministry could increase. But He does proclaim him the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Hopefully, JtB understood this need to exit the world stage and began to prepare himself to meet his Maker.
C. In fact, JtB probably knew Isaiah 35:1-10, a Messianic prophecy from 700 years before Jesus’ birth. He would have remembered that in the predicted Messianic Age (the 1000 year reign of Christ). The material earth will be restored to the time before the Fall. Scholars believe it will be returned to what the Garden of Eden was like. When Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed the ground and the serpent, but not the people. Paul will later assert (Romans 8:22) We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Paul had learned from Jesus that creation, too, would be redeemed at Jesus’ 2nd Coming.
Additionally, JtB would recall that the bodies of human beings will be renewed. Verses 5-6 state …the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. Jesus accomplished the healing of many individuals during His 1st Advent. But when He comes again, all of humankind will be spiritually, physically, and emotionally healed. How’s that for a truly wonderful Advent expectation (and promise)!
D. No wonder we have the James 5:7-10 passage assigned for today as well. The 2nd coming of Jesus Christ will right all that is now wrong with our world. However, as James counsels us, we need to (v.7) Be patient, then, brothers [and sisters] until the Lord’s coming. Scripture has told us what to expect. We just need to wait with faith, as a farmer waits for his/her crops to grow. When I was in seminary in Pittsburgh, I planted crocuses around my house. Even if there was still snow on the ground, these were the first blooms of Spring to manifest. They made such a beautiful display against a white or dirt background. Unfortunately, there were also many deer around my place, and they dined on those flowers about as fast as they came up. James also recommends we meditate on the lives of the prophets—including JtB—who prophesied the wonders to come, but did not get to experience them during their lifetime on earth.
Remember how, as a child, it was so difficult to wait until Christmas morning to see what Santa left under the tree or to unwrap our gifts? We would be so anxious and excited we could hardly sit still. As grown-up believers in Jesus, we can have this same excitement over Jesus’ appearing, while we patiently wait, in faith, for that great day. We just want our Advent Expectations of Jesus to line up with what Scripture promises and describes.
Thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia, Alleluia!
©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams