Questions. Scripture is full of questions and full answers. In our Gospel today, John the Baptizer is asked, “Who are you? The Messiah?” “No.” “Who then? Elijah?” “No.” “Are you the prophet?” “No.” They persisted. “Let us have an answer.”
In the Gospels, Peter is also questioned. “Are you one of his followers?” Three times he is asked this, and three times he denies knowing Jesus.
As people of faith, sometimes we don’t get it. Sometimes we ask, “Who are you, God?” “Where are you, Jesus?” “I feel so alone…so frightened…where ARE you?” “What are you? “Do you love me?” “Do you care?” “Help me.” “Heal me.” Come to me.”
My friends in Christ, when I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows was Hee-Haw. It had a lot of bluegrass and country music. Folks were laying around in the hay, thinking about going down to the corner of town to watch the stop light turn green. Such characters, too. Grandpa Jones, Junior Samples, Buck n Roy. It had other characters, too, that made an impression on an adolescent boy, (scantily clothed girls) but that’s another sermon. I got the humor on Hee-Haw. Simple.
HeeHaw also had Grady Nutt. Grady was a Baptist preacher, a comedian, and he came to be known as the prime minister of humor. (Pun intended.) Tragically, he died in the 1980s in an airplane crash. Grady Nutt had a saying, “Laughter is the hand of God on the shoulder of a troubled world.”
Two more weeks until Christmas. Our lessons today hit home for me. Too close to home. My mom died last Christmas Day and this is my first Christmas without her. It is difficult for me, on this Sunday of the pink candle of joy, because I don’t know what to do with this joy when I think about my first Christmas without mom…yet mom gave me much joy and my sense of humor. When I think of her I don’t think sad thoughts, I think of all the funny, outrageous things she said and did in her life. One thing I really miss is being able to send her a silly email or give her a call and say, “Mom, I got a good one for you…” She always got my jokes, and all this ornery deacon knows to do is keep laughing; mom would want it that way.
I love our Epistle today, as the opening passage from First Thessalonians is my favorite scripture verse: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in ALL circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Paul urges us to not quench the Spirit and to hold fast to what is good. To have faith…for we are called to be God’s own, and God is there for us in good times and in bad times.
Hold fast to what is good. I’ll be bold and say that we all get that. If we have problems or fears or illness, this God with skin on that John the Baptizer proclaims…this John who is the voice crying in the wilderness…this God will be there for us to share our burdens. That child in the manger, that lil baby, so precious…shares our burdens and eases them.
We need humor in our lives. It is like the hand of God on the shoulder of a troubled world. We get that, too. It is like the desert rejoicing and blossoming. In the midst of the laughter, it is as if the sorrow and sighing flees away. The message of the prophet Isaiah is so relevant for us because it acknowledges the pain and the loss and the devastation the people had been through; and at the same time, it points to something beyond the present condition:
The creation will be renewed.
The ruined cities will be rebuilt.
The exiles will come home.
The oppressed will hear the good news.
Those who mourn will be comforted.
On this third Sunday of Advent, in many faith communities we will light this candle of joy. The story is told by our Presiding Bishop, Katherine, that we light this pink candle because Mary really wanted a girl. Ultimately, our joy is all about who Jesus is. After his time of testing in the desert, which paralleled Israel’s exile, Jesus is worshipping in the synagogue in Nazareth, and he is reading the scripture for the people, and he opens the Book of Isaiah to this very passage that we heard today:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me
Because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind
To set at liberty those who are oppressed
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then Jesus closes the book and sits down. And everyone is looking at him. Then he says to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And in that moment, my brothers and sisters, we get it. AMEN