“Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.” Among you stands the very one you are waiting for. (RCL John 1:6-8,19-28) We are being challenged and encouraged to see that who and what we desire and need is already in our midst.
Into the great theme of advent, of the waiting for our God, waiting for Messiah, comes this intriguing and challenging statement that the one we wait for is already in our midst. At this precise moment in John’s testimony all who are waiting for the Messiah are told that the one they wait for is in their midst already. We can almost imagine the excitement in the gathered people who with all of Israel longed for Messiah and now there is the suggestion that someone in this crowd at this moment is he – who, where, how?
And for those of us, which is really all of Christian history, who live between the first and human coming of the Christ in Jesus and the last and fulfilling coming of the cosmic Christ, we too hear that among us is the one we wait for. And for us too the buzz of who, where and how?
We too wait for the coming of the Christ but not in the same way that those before Jesus did. We live knowing that God came and dwelt in human flesh full of grace and that by his life, death and resurrection Jesus declared God’s love for us in a way that bridged the divide of human and divine, earth and heaven, life and eternal life. We live knowing that Jesus taught the kingdom of God was among us and within us already. We live knowing that the Christ did come at the first Christmas, is breaking through now, and is yet to come at the fulfilment of time – past, present and future. For us, the faithful, the task is how do we wait for God? And the scripture readings this week seem to indicate that we wait by living the kingdom now.
Our reading from Isaiah was read by Jesus at the beginning of his own ministry according to Luke’s gospel and is often read at ordinations and commissioning. So for all who understand themselves as part of the royal priesthood of all believers, part of the body of Christ, these words were said for us and through us:
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”
(Isaiah 61:1-4, New Revised Standard Version of The New Oxford Annotated Bible,
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001)
We are being promised good news and to experience our broken hearts being bound up, to experience comfort when we are mourning, to experience our hearts swelling with praise rather than fainting within us, and to feel ourselves growing like mighty oaks and for us to feel rebuilt where we are like ruined cities. And we are being called upon to be carriers of good news of liberty and restoration and healing to all who we live among.
Paul builds on this and says we are to be the embodiment of this good news in our relationships with each other and the whole community. We are to rejoice always. At the closing of this nightmare year how are we to do that? Part of our prophetic and faithful task is to notice what is good and promising and draw attention to the green blade that does grow up through the cracks, to amplify the good and hopeful even while acknowledging the darkness. And we are to make the good news real in our own lives.
So what might this look like? Well we already know in many ways. As we have been all year. We cry out for justice when we see injustice. We remember the forgotten ones. We applaud and encourage our health care workers. We continue to pray with and for others and to give praise, lamentation and petitions of hope in worship cobbled together over the phone, the internet, in old fashioned letters and notes dropped in letter boxes. We do what we can as faithful followers of Jesus and be as good as neighbours as we can. We encourage and support one another as best we can. And we accept with grateful thanks the support and encouragement we receive.
And as we prepare for this strange and particular Christmas at the various family and community events we go to (where it is safe) or we reinvent so that we can celebrate in ways that are physically distant but socially connected, we become the much needed bearers of good news. Not denying the reality of struggle and sadness in the world and in our lives and the lives of some of our friends and family but to make sure that at least part of what we share is about the light that is in the world already. What wonderful things in our life do we give thanks for this year that we can share. Not a boast about how wonderful we are or even our children are but what do we give thanks for. What in our community do we want to celebrate? In our church? Where do you see the tender shoots of restoration and healing in our world? And when we run out of goodnews what are our hopes and wishes for our world this coming year? What do we dare to pray for?
And as we practise hope and celebration, as we practise seeing and inviting the good we want, as we practise being the ones anointed to bring good news we may indeed glimpse that the one we wait for is already among us, the kingdom is within us, the seeds of God’s good future is already springing up within us and among us as in a garden.
So let us finish by hearing again the blessing we so often hear at the end of times of worship together:
“Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage;
hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the faint hearted; support the weak;
help the afflicted; give honour to all; love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
and may the blessings of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be among us and remain with those whom we love always. Amen.”
( A Prayer Book for Australia, Broughton Books, Alexandria, 1995, page 69)