h4> Advent III, Year A
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the LORD,
the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
"Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you."
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
The Song of Mary Magnificat
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
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?" Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
`See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
"Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
John, sitting in prison, no doubt anticipating his own execution, hears what Jesus is doing, and sends his disciples to ask. How sad. How sad that, having given his life to the task of preparing the way for the Messiah, having said to Jesus at his (Jesus’) baptism, "It is you who should be baptizing me," having seen and done all this, John is finally plagued with uncertainty as he watches the Messiah fulfill his ministry. He just cannot be sure that this is what God intended the Messiah to be and do.
This is how deeply entangled in sin, in mimesis, we are.
Gil Bailie, in his book "Violence Unveiled: Humanity At the Crossroads" suggests that, for all our "enlightenment," we can be sure that generations looking back on us will see us victimizing others in ways we will never be able to see. John calls us to humility as we proclaim this God of Peace, calls us to acknowledge that, were we to see the Savior acting as God would truly act, we too would be so stunned at the way it reveals our own embeddedness in violence that we would question if God really meant it to go just that way.
Jesus says of John that no one born of a woman is greater than he, but that the least of those in God’s kingdom is greater! John pointed to the dissolution of his own culture, just as we in the Colloquium On Violence and Religion do. He saw with terrible clarity the way that God would undo everything that stood in the way of God’s reign. But he did not see this as a thing of joy. He no doubt wept for love of the people when he wasn’t screaming at them, but he could not celebrate what he saw coming. For this reason, the least in the kingdom was indeed greater than he.
Apparently, being "in the kingdom" is manifest in two different ways, both of them indispensible. The one who is in the kingdom sees as John saw the coming destruction of the Principalities and Powers of this world, and also was able to celebrate this. It is this ability to celebrate that frees us to acknowledge that we will never see fully our own part in the ongoing victimage mechanism. If we do not have joy about God’s coming, if we can see only the pain, we will blanch at the idea that we too will pass through the trials our neighbors face. We will be tempted to stand as though we were without sin as we cast stones at those still entrapped by mimesis.
John asks us to look afresh at Jesus, at how he challenges US to face our own victimizing.
Michael and I are both thrilled with the work of Paul Neuchterlein on this passage in his website, "Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary." Please give his excellent work a read.
Click here to open a new window with his page.
You and I still have to get up in the pulpit and preach. And, at least according to my preaching teacher, we have to preach "Good News."
"If you don’t have Good News to share, don’t get in the pulpit!" That will stick with me for the rest of my ministry.
And then there’s the risk that taking our own part in the scapegoating process seriously will paralyze us. How can we preach to others if we are benefitting from the murder of the scapegoat too?
There’s the rub, and the measure of our ministry. Are we those "least in the kingdom" who are greater than those who long for the coming of God but lack the joy? As you meditate on these texts, remember that you and I read them from the point of view of the Resurrection. This entire text is written from the point of view of the Resurrection. Just as the Cross lies behind every word of the New Testament, so does the empty tomb, the ineradicable evidence of God’s victory over our sin, and everyone else’s, too.
Because we see Jesus through that lens, we may be just as startled as John was to see how much of our own lives Jesus calls into question, but we do so with the laughter of Sara at the incomprehensible nature of God. We do not ask, "Are you the one who is to come?" but "What other surprises do you have in store?"