Third Sunday of Advent

Posted by Rev. Matthew Johnson on December 11, 2022

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” — Matthew 11:1 (NRSVue)

It was Sunday afternoon, the day of my childhood church’s annual chili supper. The space was full of the round tables, neatly arranged, just as they were every year. Aided by the culinary skills of the women’s circle group, the chili supper served as a fundraiser for our family ministry programs. We kids loved playing host; our hands sticky from pouring diluted lemonade into waxed cups; our pulse rates rising while gingerly navigating full bowls on floral trays to every table, and then snaking our way back with the empty ones.  

George sat behind a table in the farthest corner of the gym, alone. With his arms folded and the scowl he wore, he’d managed to make most folk steer clear of his table for the whole event. On the other end of the gym, Melissa — George’s wife — ran the kitchen with precision and joy. If it weren’t already painted a shade of yellow, Melissa would have been able to make it glow simply by her disposition.

It was the same every year, it seemed. If you got close to George, he’d want to know how long before it was over. And if you were within earshot of Melissa, she wanted an update on how the fundraising was going. No matter the answers they received, George would grumble at what he heard while Melissa would cheer at what she was told. One longed only for an ending, and the other anticipated a joyful outcome.

There is something of Advent in both. George’s “How long?” echoes the early Psalms ... the desires of God’s people to finally awaken from their generations-long nightmare. There is a lot of George’s lament in us these days, too. The world still isn’t as we remember it.

But I’m feeling the need for more of Melissa’s perspective in my life about now. It is the perspective of the imprisoned John, too. Have we made it to where we want to be, or do we need to keep going? Are you the one, dear cousin, or shall we keep doing the work?

I’m feeling the need for more of Melissa’s perspective, because endings aren’t ever as clean as we want them to be. The odor of disappointment lingers well past their finishing. 

In regards to the passage from Matthew, we are aware John’s sentence will not be commuted. I have to believe John is aware of this, too. Yet he chooses to stay focused on the beginning he’s been announcing. And Jesus helps him stay positive. “Look at all the good that is happening,” he tells John via messenger. Blindness wasn’t eradicated, but the blind who encountered Jesus could see. Some started to walk, others were healed; hearing was restored, and good news began to spread. It wasn’t a completion, but a start.

Today, you may not finish everything you want to do. And, you’ll likely turn in tonight without seeing the wholesale elimination of the world’s ills and evils. But, rest assured, there is something wonderful getting its start right now; grace is now conceiving it everywhere the Word has gone.

Tags: advent, third sunday in advent

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