Reading Ramblings – December 15, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday in Advent – December 25, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-11; Matthew 11:2-15

Context: Strong words of encouragement continue to come from the prophet Isaiah, pictures of a restored and renewed creation made possible only in the Day of the Lord. All other sources of hope ultimately fail, the psalmist reminds us. Which means that we must patiently endure the failures and hardships here and now, which we are able to do knowing that our Lord’s return is imminent. The reality of this is driven home as Jesus works his ministry. Patiently revealing the prophetic fulfillment not just in his own person and work, but in that of John the Baptist as well. The forerunner prophesied by Malachi. Let he who has ears hear.

Isaiah 35:1-10 – We continue hearing from the prophet Isaiah in the 8th century BC as he glimpses a renewed and restored world. Is he speaking with exaggeration about the peace of God’s people when the Assyrians are defeated? When the strength of the Babylonians is broken and God’s people return to Jerusalem and Judea? To some extent yes. But his words clearly go beyond this. He clearly sees more than just restored fortunes in a sinful and broken world. He sees healing and restoration on a scale only possible from God, laying the groundwork for what God’s people should look for in anyone they suspect to be the Messiah. These are the signs John the Baptist has in mind as he sits in prison, wondering if Jesus truly is the Messiah or if he’s tagged the wrong man. Jesus’ response makes it clear John is not wrong, Jesus is the Messiah, and in his ministry is the start of that restoration not just of humanity but all creation to the perfection it was created with.

Psalm 146 – It’s easy to claim to be a savior. Easy to claim you have the answers to the world’s problems and if only you can be given enough latitude, you will set things right. We hear these promises during every election cycle. Only to be disappointed afterwards. Talking is easy. Action is harder. Even the best intentions come ultimately to frustration when someone dies and leaves nothing behind but a legacy to be gradually whittled away but successors and detractors. Only God’s promises can be trusted to be both complete and final. Only God is capable of maintaining faithfulness forever, seeing through is plan of salvation to completion perfectly and completely. Only He can restore creation to the perfection lost in Eden. While others may claim to aspire to this, they ultimately fail, and we would be wise as God’s people not to have our eyes distracted from our Lord’s return by the clamor of politics and human machinations here and now. We exercise our vocation as citizens faithfully and to the best of our ability, but we trust only and ultimately in the God who created us, redeemed us, and sanctifies us.

James 5:7-11 – But the Day of the Lord has not arrived in fullness and completeness yet. With God’s people since Eden, we continue to wait the perfect culmination of God the Father’s plan. Which means we must endure the evil and sinfulness in ourselves and the world around us, and we must wait patiently, trusting in our Father’s timing rather than our own preferences. This patience is something we commit ourselves to actively. It is a choice, a setting of our hearts. We will fail from time to time but we resolve to get back on our feet and remain patient in our endurance, persistent in our hope. After all, we certainly aren’t the first to suffer, and from our American Christian standpoint at least, many others have and do endure far worse as they wait for our Lord than we do. They should be our examples. God provides us with these examples and inspirations, strengthening our resolve and reminding us that we do not wait alone. We are not forgotten and orphaned. Our Lord the Holy Spirit is with us here and now, and so we can wait in confidence.

Matthew 11:2-15 – John the Baptist knows the Word of God. He also saw God the Holy Spirit come to rest on Jesus during his baptism. He knows that Jesus is the anointed one, the Messiah. And yet, as he languishes in prison, John has a moment of doubt and sends messengers to inquire. To make sure. What can Jesus say? He knows John’s faith and He knows John’s knowledge of Scripture. Jesus refers to signs given by Isaiah for the Messiah. Luke 7 drives the point home more firmly – as John’s disciples stand there, Jesus performs miracles in front of them. Can there be any doubt? Certainly there can, because John is still in prison, an unforeseen turn of events from his perspective, and one he might reasonably expect to be reversed, as per Isaiah 42. But while Jesus works many miracles to demonstrate his identity, He does not release John from prison. Jesus comes to initiate the kingdom of heaven, but not to reveal it fully. That awaits the Father’s perfect timing. John, like the rest of us, must wait for that perfect timing, enduring whatever hardships are necessary – whether imprisonment or just the challenges of getting older.

John expressed doubt about Jesus but Jesus wants to be sure people have no doubts about John. John isn’t merely a has-been, eclipsed by a more spectacular ministry from Jesus. No, John is a prophet. The last of the Old Testament prophets who points forward to the Messiah that will come after them. He is the Elijah figure Malachi prophesied, Jesus assures the crowds. They were not wrong to listen to John, and because of that, they are not wrong to listen to and follow Jesus.

John must hear the words of his disciples reporting what they saw and heard. Likewise the crowds are expected to hear Jesus’ words and receive them. And you and I 2000 years later are expected to hear and trust the words passed down to us from those who saw them come to pass firsthand. We have ears, and we have the opportunity to hear the good news of the kingdom of God, the redemption of creation through the perfect life and death of the Son of God. The promise of eternal restoration and new life when He returns. We may have our moments of doubt and uncertainty but we are graciously invited into repentance to receive forgiveness and the reminder to pay attention to what we have heard and what we have experienced for ourselves.

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