Year A; FB.Advent 3; 12.11.2022
Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11
I don’t know of anyone who prays for what they don’t want or need. Maybe there are those who DON’T pray because they doubt anything can come of it. And, it’s true that there are those who might pray for malevolent outcomes. But, people of faith turn to God in prayer with our needs, hopes, wants, thanksgivings, sorrows and repentances.
On the First Sunday of Advent, I viewed Advent Lessons and Carols on line with Washington National Cathedral. As I said the opening Bidding Prayer with the officiant, tears came to my eyes. I was moved because that prayer gathers all our human needs and the deepest needs of others into one beautiful prayer. I prayed it out loud in my den as I watched the liturgy:
Beloved in Christ, as we await the great festival of Christmas, let us prepare ourselves so that we may be shown its true meaning. Let us hear, in lessons from Holy Scripture, how the prophets of Israel foretold that God would visit and redeem the waiting people. Let us rejoice, in our carols and hymns, that the good purpose of God is being mightily fulfilled. Let us celebrate the promise that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will bring all people and all things into the glory of God’s eternal kingdom. The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor hear and see the Gospel.
First, let us pray for the world God so loves, for those who have not heard the good news of God, or who do not believe it; for those who walk in darkness and in the shadow of death; and for the Church in this and every place, that it may be freed from all evil and fear, and may in pure joy lift up the light of the love of God.
These prayers and praises let us humbly offer to God… (BOS, p. 31)
This prayer covers our lesson from the prophet Isaiah this morning, that God would visit and redeem the waiting, the deported, the exiled people of Judah. And the signs that blind people receive their sight, ears that can’t hear will be opened; physically disabled people will leap like a dear and those who have been rendered speechless will sing! Beautiful lushness will spring forth in the desert. All of this foretells of the fulfillment of God’s purpose, and the wait is worth it.
This prayer also covers the plaintive cry of John the Baptist to Jesus from the wretched prison of Herod, “Are you the one? Oh please, are we going to have to wait for another to come save us?” Jesus answers with the proof of restorative healings, “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.”
The Prophet Isaiah and Jesus in our readings have given witness to the very bidding prayer I read for Advent. And we are here to witness this good news today, this Third Sunday of Advent. “In God, wilderness, war, generational poverty, sickness, loss, disability and death become not a journey of struggle, but of hope, and the Advent Season rekindles this hope for our way through the wilderness each year.” We know the chant, “God makes a way out of no way.” This is our Advent hope.
Still, in our lives right now, we might say, “I say my prayers and share wants, needs, desires and disappointments with God. I have the hope that God’s character is to restore, make new, redeem and save all of creation, even ‘little old me’ in my sorrows and losses. Yes, Immanuel has come and is surely among us.”
But we also still bid Immanuel to come, as if we are still waiting. “O Come, O come Immanuel…” We still call on God to fulfill God’s promise in the sending of the Savior. We still chant this prayer because in some ways, Immanuel’s visitation among us is an unsatisfied fulfillment. As one bible scholar writes, “Real captives and refugees suffer in the present; the earth is a burning desert; bodies are broken; cities are joyless; and human hearts everywhere, including our own, are sighing.” In our strongest moments we say, “This will not always be so.” But in our doubts, we wait and hope, holding fast to prayers, poems and scripture.
Every day, I pass by the house of my aging neighbors when I walk the dog. I don’t know this couple very well. But I remember just after I moved into my house in October of 2013, they left town in their van just before the snow started to fall. They spent winters in a warmer climate. They were gone every winter for years. I only got to know them in the summers from their porch when they would sit there and read. I had learned over the years that the woman was a quite accomplished physicist and taught at Columbia University.
One winter, I noticed that the van was gone, but they were still home in Maine. They had sold the van because the signs of her dementia were growing more pronounced and they were staying home more and more. They spent summers on the porch, as usual. What I loved and what changed with her, was that every single time I’d walk by with my dog, she would light up and call out from the porch and say, “What a beautiful dog!” She had delight in her voice and eyes. She always bid me to bring the dog up to her on the porch so she could love it and pet it.
I loved connecting with her in this way. A few weeks ago, I learned that she moved out of her house to memory care. This is a loss for us all. Her partner is sorrowful and lonely.
She came vividly to mind as I read Isaiah’s promises of God, “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 with a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! HERE IS YOUR GOD!…God will come and save you!”
I put ‘HERE IS YOUR GOD!’ IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU ARE ANGRY, SCARED OR AT THE END OF YOUR ROPE. YOU WRITE IT IN ALL CAPS TO GET THE POINT ACROSS!!
The promise behind ALL CAPS…the promise we hold fast to is…“It will not always be so.” We are promised a homecoming, “…where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.”
As I wrapped Christmas presents for family and friends I listened to the entire Handel’s “Messiah.” But the song that came to me as I dwelled with our beautiful readings this week is, “I’m a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” Slaves sang it and poorest people in Appalachia sang it. We sing it from the African American Hymnal of the Episcopal Church.
I found a recording of it by Joan Baez that she sang on the occasion of her then husband’s imprisonment in 1969 for resisting the draft.
“I am a poor wayfaring stranger. Wandering through this world of woe. And there’s no sickness, no toil or danger. In that bright land to which I go.
“I’m going there to meet my mother. She said she’d meet me when I come. I’m only going over Jordan. I’m only going over home.
“I’ll soon be free from every trial. My body asleep in the old graveyard. I’ll drop the cross of self-denial. And enter on my great reward.
“I’m going there to meet my father. I’m going there no more to roam. I’m only going over Jordan. I’m only going over home.”
Hymns and prayers about “coming home,” help us sigh and pray in our deepest sorrows and doubts and say, “It will not always be so. God makes a way out of no way.”
May we wait in faith, and bid Immanuel to come and restore our spirits which today might well be our deepest need.