Third Sunday of Advent
December 11, 2022
Mad, Bad or God
Isaiah 35: 1-10
Canticle 15 (Luke 1:46-55)
It seems safe to say that most of us have had our own moments of doubt. For some, these moments lasted months, years, even decades.
Is all this real?
Are we pawns in a 2000-year-old conspiracy started by a madman and picked up by those who shaped the myth to control the masses? There are those who have made this argument and have for generations. Some will argue that the historical Jesus was a great teacher and leader but not divine, for science proves the ‘God’ narrative to be implausible.
Imagine you are John the Baptist in prison. You have believed in your role of preparing the way of the Lord your entire life. Your only ambition was to spread the word about the One who comes after you; to Baptize in His name and to preach that the One who comes after you is God. You lived in poverty, never married, lived outside of normal human comforts and in so doing have made King Herod and his wife very angry. Now you are in prison simply for doing what you believe to be your mission; and you know this will not end well for you. You wonder, “Did I get this right? Is Jesus the one I have been preparing everyone for? Is all this real?” And so, you send a letter, via your followers, to Jesus asking for validation that all is right. Jesus responds to your question. He sends you a message that says, “Yes, my beloved John, you have prepared the way for God who has healed and transformed the people.” And then you get word that He has preached to the people that you are more than a great prophet, that your personal sacrifices are seen and honored by God. In addition, no human on this earth is greater than you. You sit in prison knowing you will be killed soon because you followed your moral compass and spiritual mission knowing that God acknowledges everything and holds you in high esteem, higher than every other person on the planet. Your work is completed. You can rest now in your faith and graciously accept pending execution.
There are two things that stand out to me in Matthew’s account. One, the author of Matthew was a social justice advocate. So, he reminds the reader that while John is first among all humans, in the Kingdom the first will be last and the last first.
Secondly, when addressing the people about John the human, Jesus does not count himself as human but as God, as the Lord, not merely a moral authority or teacher.
The professor and author CS Lewis was fascinated by the conversation regarding whether Jesus was simply a profound moral teacher/Rabbi or truly God in the flesh. Lewis warned in his writings and lectures that accepting Jesus as a moral teacher is not enough; one must accept Jesus’ claim that he is indeed God. In a BBC interview in 1962 promoting his new book, Mere Christianity, Lewis states:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic---on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.
You can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about this being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. Now it seems to me obvious that he was neither a lunatic nor a fiend; and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I must accept the view that He was and is God.”
This argument was not new to CS Lewis, for the argument is as old as Jesus Himself. Lewis was a scholar and knew this argument had been explored in various forms throughout church history.
In 1796 the Scotsman, John Duncan wrote: “Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self- deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of the trilemma. It is beyond reasonable debate.”
On this third Sunday of Advent, we as Christians proclaim we are being Christ in the world preparing a way for the coming of God. Some of us Baptize, some of us heal, some of us feed, some of us answer whenever we are called to service. We might doubt sometimes when things get dark, but we know the truth and we live as humbly as we are able, knowing that this world, this life, is the threshold of God’s Kingdom.
Advent is about waiting and preparing, but it is also about transformation. Notice all the “Christmas” stories and movies. Each one is about transformation: being a better person, seeing things in a new and better way, paying attention to important relationships and strangers who need help. Advent is about finding faith, realizing what really matters, and being a transcendent figure in a broken world.
Jesus is our teacher. He taught us; but more than this, Jesus transformed us. Like John, we can be assured that whatever comes next, we are acknowledged and held up for our faith. And just as important, our faith changes us. God changes us because we are listening and manifesting His presence in the world.
Mark Hopkins, an American preacher, wrote in 1844: “The very act of faith by which we receive Christ as God is an act of the utter renunciation of self, grounded in salvation. It is really a denial of self, of self-transformation for which sin is forsaken and overcome.”
Let us pray:
Lord, you humbled yourself to walk among us in human flesh and opened the way to salvation. Thank you for teaching us the power of leadership, the power to heal, the power to listen and the power to care for others so that we can be as Christ in the world.
Holy Spirit, kindle the flame of our faith. Grow in us Joy. By your gracious visitation, lighten the darkness of our hearts.
Let us be secure that our faith is not in vain.
Let us be still and know you are God.