Traditionally, the third Sunday of Advent is called Joy Sunday, where we are supposed to rejoice in all things.
And the primary scripture passage used for this Sunday used by churches around the world is…
John the Baptist in jail, right before King Herod orders his head on a platter.
And to make it even worse, in this passage John the Baptist is questioning whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. John the Baptist! The baby who leapt in his mother’s womb when he met Jesus in Mary’s womb… The guy in the wilderness who preached about repentance and paving a way for the Lord… The guy who was unfit to until the sandals of Jesus! And here is, doubting his entire life’s purpose.
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jail, violence, and questioning one’s existence.
Last week, we rea that John knew who Jesus was when he baptized him in the wilderness. He knew that Jesus was the one.
Or at least he thought he was the one, because at this moment in his life, he appears that he was profoundly disappointed in Jesus.
It’s a theme that actually occurs over and over again the Bible… We want Jesus to be one thing, and instead, we get another.
In this case, Jesus’s response points us in that other direction.
When asked if he was the one that the Jewish people were waiting for, he answered:
“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
When Jesus is asked if he is THE one, he points to the blind, the lame, the sick, and those without a lot of money. He points to those on the outside. He points to those without power. He points to those whose lives are often hanging on by a thread.
You want to know if Jesus is the one we’re waiting for? Don’t look over there… Look over here. Don’t look for those whom the world calls winners. Don’t look for People of the Year. Don’t look for Consumer Choice Awards or Year End Best of Lists. Don’t look to the covers of Cosmopolitan or GQ magazine. Yes, all of them are beloved children of God. But that’s not the direction that Jesus points to.
Look over here instead. Look at the unwed pregnant teenagers giving birth behind the house. Look at families fleeing for their lives because of war. Look at those of us who wonder where their next meal is going to come from. Look at those of us are grieving. Look at those of us whose lives are hanging on by thread.
If you want winners, look to politics and sports and magazine covers. If you want Jesus, you have to look elsewhere. And if this is tough, well, that’s why Jesus says, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Here’s the challenge for us today.
Often, we end up placing ourselves in the shoes of Jesus, especially at Christmas. We give extra, we volunteer more, we make toy mountains at malls and share more. All really good things.
For example, this year at mu daughter’s school, the students were invited to donate a stuffed animal for the kids at Steinbach Family Resource Center. So I loaded up my kids in the van and off to the store we went, in an attempt to teach them that it is better to give than to receive, and that the point of life is to give back all that we have received. (Although when they picked a Paw Patrol animal and at the til I realize it was $15, all I could mutter to myself was “this is highway robbery.”)
We often cast it upon ourselves in the role of Jesus and spread Christmas cheer to the world.
I think the challenge for us isn’t to stop spreading Christmas cheer, because sweet mercy me we need people’s generosity and an extra dose of kindness every year, but rather the challenge is for us to see it as a first step.
I think the next step for us is to move from trying to “be” Jesus to others and start trying to “see” Jesus in others.
The movement is from “being” Jesus to “seeing” Jesus.
Jamie Arpin-Ricci, a pastor and author whose voice I listen to, considers the significance of this shift:
“If you encountered a homeless man and decided to act like Jesus toward Him, what might that look like? Perhaps you would feed him, clothe him, affirm his dignity, and tell him that he is loved by God. Without question this is beautiful and important. However, consider it from the other side: if you encountered a homeless man and decided to treat him in the same way you would treat Jesus, what might that look like? How might your posture be different? The contrast becomes clear. [If we try to be Jesus], we are still more or less coming to the man with a posture of superiority, aren’t we? The haves coming to help the have-nots, so to speak. We are the savior.”
But when truly treating him like he is Jesus, everything would be reversed. Suddenly, our approach to the homeless man is not as someone who is in need of what we have to offer, but this perspective recognizes that this person has as much to offer us as we do him, maybe even more. It is in this way that we need the poor more than they need us. Or, more honestly, as we humbly relate to the poor, our own poverty is exposed. Either way, in treating the homeless as Jesus, the transformation is mutual, not one-sided. It is a beautiful twist, as we attempt to treat the other as though we are serving Christ. When we see Jesus in the least and act accordingly, it is only then that we ourselves begin to be like Jesus in appropriate ways, becoming servants of all.” Vulnerable Faith, p. 137-138
I love this movement from “being” Jesus to “seeing” Jesus, because while we can still spread Christmas cheer, it also allows ourselves to be open to some sort of transformation.
It’s Christmastime, and we’re already bombarded with lots of expectations and more than enough guilt, so I’m not going to tell you go and find a homeless man and see Christ in him (Although if you do, good job!). I don’t want to add yet another thing to the list to overwhelm us at Christmas.
But what we will do this morning, is spend a minute in prayer thinking about all the people that we are going to see this Christmas, at work, at home, and family gatherings, and ask God to help us see Jesus in them. Because if we can see Jesus in the people around us at Christmas, I’d say that’s a pretty good start to understanding the story of God coming to us as a baby in a manger.
Join with me in prayer:
Notice your breathing.
As your breath in, imagine breathing in all of the fullness and goodness of God.
As your breath out, quietly say to yourself, Lord Have Mercy.
Think about all the people in your life.
As they come to mind, imagine how God looks at them.
Ask God to help you see Jesus in them, and treat them as such.