The temperatures have dropped and rain is forecast. Will there be snow on Mount Diablo tonight?
It is the Christmas season, a time of bustle and buying, of gathering with friends and associates to share a meal, exchange gifts and greetings. Happy Holidays we say more often than Merry Christmas, not wanting to offend other traditions. Yet the holidays still center on Christmas Day. The school vacations lead up to and fall away from this festival. We as a nation still honor and live out in our culture this time of hope.
I give thanks that this remains so, although as Christians we must not be ashamed of our faith, not, as Christ said in today’s Gospel lesson, “be offended” by him. We must live out our faith, respecting others, loving others. We must not hide our light. We must share the great hope of Christmas to all who have the ears to hear.
It all depends, I suppose, on who we claim Jesus Christ was, is. In today’s lesson, St. Matthew (11:2+) describes how John the Baptist, now in prison, sends two of his followers to see if Christ is indeed the long-awaited messiah. Jesus answers with a catalog of miracles: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up. This is, of course, exactly what the prophets prophesied. What did you expect to see? he asks. Look at what I do.
In the Advent daily prayer offices we are immersed in those prophecies, and now see Christ reminding us that he truly is this long-awaited messiah. We are also immersed in the terror of the apocalypse, the wrath of God upon the corrupt, the lawbreakers, those who hurt, lie, steal, kill. We see a God who divides the wheat from the tares, the weeds. We wait for our redemption, a way to be saved. We wait for the way, the truth, and the life, the messiah who bridges this huge gulf between prophecy and judgment, this gulf of Advent.
And of course the Incarnation, Christmas, bridges this great gulf. God provides a way out of ourselves and into his kingdom. He provides this long-awaited messiah, Jesus Christ, who saves us from sin and thus from death.
Another time Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers, “You are Christ, Son of the living God.”
Today is Laetare Sunday, which means “Rejoice,” called this for the Latin introit, Rejoice in the Lord always… (Philippians 4). Today is also Rose Sunday. We light our pink candle and the two purple ones on the Advent wreathe, a lighter-themed day in our penitential season of purple. Today the theme is Heaven. Advent one and two were themed Death and Judgment, Advent four, Hell. Not many pastors preach on these traditional topics today, for some folks might be… well, offended. But without facing death and judgment we have no need for Christ to give us the way to Heaven and not Hell. And whether or not we face these things, they will face us.
Who is Jesus Christ? Did he do the miracles recorded? Did he fulfill the prophesies? Was he born to a virgin in a cave outside Bethlehem on a cold starry night? Did he live a life of miracles and die a shameful death, fulfilling even more prophecies? And most important, did he rise from the dead as he foretold?
I believe he is indeed the messiah, long-awaited by the People of Israel. I believe he did all these things described by the prophets and in the Gospels, all these astounding deeds which would, one would think, convince us that he was who he claimed to be. Yet even after two thousand years, some believe, some don’t. They never find the way.
Who is Jesus Christ? The evidence, I believe, is clear and compelling. I hold this faith close as I return to Isaiah and St. John’s revelations, as I too await the coming of God to a manger in great humility. I hold this faith close as I sing with fellow believers, Come, O come, Emanuel, to ransom captive Israel… on this cold Laetare Sunday in the dead of winter. I hold it close as I share meals with friends and family and wrap special gifts and decorate with pungent greenery and colored balls of glitter. I hold this faith close as the day turns dark early and I light the fire in the fireplace and listen to calling-carols and watch the heavy gray skies hover over the mountain.
Come, O come, Emmanuel, to ransom us. Come, O come, Emmanuel… come and ransom little me.