Sermon, Advent 3A, Sunday December 15, 2019, St Petri
After viewing ‘Away in a Manger’ – Joseph https://skitguys.com/videos/away-in-a-manger
Matthew 11:2-11 2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’4 Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:‘“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.”[b]11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
I have to admit, that about this time of year, in Advent, just before Christmas, I struggle to find joy in what Christmas has become. I hear the alternative story that has grown in dimensions to become THE story for most in my lifetime and I get mildly angry. I seem to be on the edge of being cynical about the whole thing right about now. Maybe I’m becoming a ‘grumpy old man’!
I think I needed to be reminded this Advent that Christmas is about joy – the joy of a newborn baby and a proud Dad. I had to be reminded that Christmas and indeed the whole Christian movement is news – good news.
It’s good news and human news I can relate to. I remember holding my own babies. I remember Leanne and I marvelling at the gifts we had been given. Same for those around that shed at night. They soaked up this good news boy.
The whole of our Christmas story is essentially news – good news.
That is what Matthew and the other New Testament witnesses choose to name the Jesus event – news: good news’ ‘gospel’.
It is good news not just good advice. Advice is given to help you do something. Good news just is – good news that makes the soul soar.
Is Christmas, still good news for you? Is the whole Jesus event good news for you? Or, are you verging on cynicism when it comes to faith, church, God, Christmas? Is Jesus more just good advice’ for you rather than truly good news for you?
You know, three things happen when a thing is news.
News is news that has not just happened out of the blue.
News is news because something has actually happened, and the story is now changed forever.
News introduces an intermediate time of waiting.
News is news because it does not come out of the blue. It is unexpected but it is part of a back story. EG. That terrible volcano eruption on White Island in the Bay of Plenty on the North Island of NZ this week is bad news. We feel for those who have lost their lives and those left behind and those injured. That island is a known volcano. It has a whole story behind it. The bad news came as part of that long back story of that island. News is news because it is unexpected but comes from somewhere already partly known.
News is news because something has actually happened. The thing that happened has consequences; has impact on people’s lives. The consequences of that volcano erupting has reshaped thousands of people’s lives; even a whole nations’ life forever. Things are not the same and the story is now different. Everything has changed as a result of that event. News is news because it changes things and cannot be undone.
News introduces an new time of waiting. The event has occurred and had its significant consequence and now we wait. We wait for people to recover. We wait for the time of mourning for many families. We wait to a return to less chaos and heartache. News is news because it begins something – recovery, survival, new learning that gives us some hope of avoiding the bad event and finding the new things for the future.
Can you see how Christmas is news; good news?
1 Christmas is good news because it did not come from nowhere. It was foretold in a hundred ways over thousands of years – and in the most beautiful way – a new highway, water in the desert, singing in the land, a new king to rule in justice for all, a new good shepherd unlike the blind guides leading people into fake news. John is the go-between. The last great prophet and yet the great announcer of the final prophet – Jesus.
John, quite understandably, had his doubts. He is rotting in a prison for no good reason and Jesus is not quite what they expected in terms of a new king! No swords, white stallions, army…. John sends his friends to ask this supposed promised king, “Are you the One?”
The new good news king replies;
‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’
“OK. I won’t stumble. I won’t take offense, Jesus”.
Yes, Jesus is the good news that comes from that whole back story of promise. Jesus is news: good news because he comes from promise – promise of new life, new hope, new people, new heaven and new earth coming right here in the old one.
2. Christianity is essentially news; good news, because something good actually happened in real space and time – in our human story and in a real human way.
That is THE news of Christmas in particular. We call it the “Incarnation” – God taking on our bones and breath. Our flesh; being ‘carnalis’, ‘caro’, ‘meat, flesh’. God in the flesh, in the physical body; our body, our story, our ways….
The thing that happened has consequences; has impact on people’s lives. Jesus calls it the new ‘covenant’; the new relationship closer than ever before and not based on you earning it or achieving it or being good to get it, but all based on God’s will to give himself to you; to give all his gifts; all his love, all his acceptance, all his peace; forgiveness after forgiveness. Now there is ongoing teaching, learning, shaping in this undeserved gift of kindness and new hope; a whole new life to be lived!
We are like Joseph with his new baby boy, Joseph is a changed man. His whole life now includes someone else, something else, a future hope that shaped him from day one.
Same for you and me. The good news boy has called us into his community and enlisted us in his kingdom mission. Our whole lives are now different than they would ever be without that call, that love, that good news event still going on day by day in us.
3. And now the news that is very good puts us that time of hopeful, expectant waiting. We wait for good news boy to slowly fulfill his destiny; his rule of grace in one person at a time, one day at a time until what he promises comes to be complete makeover, complete fulfilment of all promises to the letter; promises of life even through dying, hope even in any suffering, great reward for the life lived in service of this good news king.
Promises of healing for my body, healing for my relationships, end to my suffering, love for my lack of love, faith for my doubt, trust for my fears, calm for my worries, hope even for this dangerous world of volcanoes, wars, injustice, corruption, and all the bad news.
So, John heard right in prison, and Joseph felt it right in the shed. Jesus is the news – the good news boy.
He is the ONE of promise from that back story of promise who brings future promise.
He has arrived and has done all that was necessary for the new relationship to be possible between us and he has placed us in this expectant, hopeful wait for the good news to get better.
He sets us on an expectant and hopeful way of living in his kingly mission where he has placed us.
I am back again now. I am no longer a grumpy old man about Christmas. I am a new man because of Christmas.
I see the blue and hear the faith songs we sing and marvel at the good news boy, and somehow, I am good news again. So are we. So are you.