Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers

Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, BCC, PCC

www.elizabeth-annestewart.com

SUNDAY BIBLETALK

The Third Sunday of Advent

December 11th, 2022

Excerpt from

A POCKETFUL OF SUNDAYS

Elizabeth-Anne Stewart


What was the attraction of the wild man of the desert who with one breath threatened "the coming wrath" (Lk 3:7) and, with the next, urged people to follow the laws of common decency? Simply put, his message was "Don't hoard. Don't overcharge, Don't extort. Don't slander." Perhaps people flocked to him because his conditions for "being saved" fitted people from every walk of life; perhaps his appeal as a preacher stemmed from the fact that he offered a "practical spirituality," one which required little more than following the commandments. People knew where they stood with John; they could leave sin behind them and resume their daily routines with a new heart. Little wonder that many thought he might be the Messiah; they liked his message and the opportunity he presented for repentance, even if they were tax collectors and soldiers.


The difference between Jesus and John is the difference between fire and water. John re-assured and comforted while Jesus disturbed the status quo. While John showed tax collectors the way to be "righteous tax collectors," Jesus was more likely to say, "Follow me!" resulting in the loss of livelihood. Peter, James and John left their fishing nets behind, while Matthew left his work at the customs house. In contrast to John, Jesus preached a spirituality which demanded going beyond the Law...


The path Jesus presents is narrow while John's is broad; John's path is for the masses while the path Jesus presents is far less attainable. Like the disciples, we might ask, "Then who can be saved?" (Lk 18:26). Here it is John who holds the answer: Jesus baptizes with fire and the Holy Spirit. Fire cleanses us of attachments, purifying us; the Holy Spirit gives us guidance, consolation, courage, strength and every other quality necessary for discipleship. Jesus demands the impossible but then offers the resources which help disciples make impossible choices; moreover, he himself provides the example to show his followers the way. We have before us fire and water -- which will we choose?



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Greetings, SBT Readers!


I'm a firm believer in miracles, that is, in the possibility that the impossible can --and does indeed-- happen at times. This is not to say that those miracles we desire always happen, but, if we pay attention, we will begin to notice that miracles tend to occur with great regularity. I, personally, have experienced "small" miracles (as for example, finding a lost diamond in the bristles of a broom) and "huge" miracles (such as being thrown out of an IRS auditor's office, without any penalty, because I unintentionally confused the auditor while trying to explain my ex-tax accountant's $25,000.00 error). While the first miracle had echoes of the "lost being found," the second left me feeling as though the waters of the Red Sea had parted just long enough for me to escape a vengeful Pharaoh. Never could I have imagined that my creative attempts to reconcile receipts with expenditures could totally unhinge a public servant. Perhaps it was my blend of colorful narrative and photographic evidence that moved the waters -- or perhaps it was God.


I know a miracle has taken place when I am left shaken and trembling by the sheer improbability of my experience. At such moments, it is not my good fortune that I focus on, but the conviction of having just experienced a "God moment" -- like the time I forgot my suitcase somewhere in the middle of LaGuardia Airport, left the terminal, and found it an hour later.

Yes, I was glad to see the case, but my sense of awe was even stronger than my relief.


The first reading from Isaiah presents miracles as signs of the Holy One's presence: deserts bloom, fear gives way to courage, the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead rise from their tombs... Not only that, but "Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing." Today, I think of Brittney Griner's "ransom" from Russia after 10 months of captivity. For her and for her loved ones, this moment must be truly miraculous; for those still awaiting liberation, her "miracle" offers a ray of hope, however thin, that a new day will dawn some "tomorrow" from now...


Advent Blessings!


Elizabeth



SCRIPTURE REFLECTION

Link to the Sunday Readings


Now when John the Baptist heard in prison of the deeds of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,

"Are you the one who is to come,

or should we look for another?"

Jesus replied,

"Go and tell John what you hear and see:

the blind regain their sight,

the lame walk,

lepers are cleansed,

the deaf hear,

the dead are raised up,

and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me."

Mt 11:2-11


Oh, that cryptic last line! What did John's followers make of it as they carried Jesus' words back to the imprisoned John? It was one thing to let John know that Jesus' deeds fulfilled Isaiah's prophecies (Is 26:19; 29:18-19;35:5-6; 61). In fact, John most likely had already heard about the healing of the centurion's servant (Mt 8:5-13), the Gerasene demoniac (Mt 8:28-34), the paralyzed man (Mt 9:1-8), the two blind men (Mt 9:27-31) and the mute person (Mt 9:32-34). And, no doubt, he had learned the gist of Jesus' teachings from his disciples -- the Sermon on the Mount, for example (Mt 5). But that last line? "And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me" (Mt 11:11). What would he have understood by this seeming rebuke?


The rebuke, if we can call it that, seems to have been in response to John's question: "Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another" (Mt 11:3). The fact that John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask this question suggests that he now had doubts. Something had evidently shifted for him since Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan (Mt 3:13-17). Then, he was so certain that Jesus was the Holy One of God, even to the point of being unwilling to perform the ritual immersion; then, he fully believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of all his prophecies, , the One who had come to clear the threshing floor of evildoers, burning the chaff while gathering the wheat into his barn (Mt 3:7-12). Languishing in prison, he may have expected the apocalypse but, instead of unleashing fiery judgment, Jesus healed the sick and blessed the poor in spirit. What ever happened to the ax that was going to fell rotten trees, or to the unquenchable fire?


I may be reading too much into the text, but it would seem that John had expectations that Jesus did not fill. Just as the crowds may have expected John to be a prophet dressed in fine clothing (Mt 11:7-9), so John may have expected Jesus to be the Avenging Judge, the one who would not only topple corrupt leaders but who would bring an end to Roman occupation. He may also have assumed that Jesus would secure his liberation, breaking his shackles and punishing Herod and his cohorts.

That cryptic line, then, could be interpreted this way: "Blessed are they who accept me for who I am."


On this third Sunday of Avent, the Gospel invites us to look at our own assumptions about Jesus -- about who we expect him to be and about who he really is. If we are willing to look at these questions, a starting point would be to see how he "acts" in our lives. We might remember times when he has opened our eyes to Truth, washing away our biases, distortions, illusions and misrepresentations: how has he taught us to SEE, removing our moral blindness? Then we might recall those times when the journey became too hard and we were tempted to turn back: how has he given us the strength not only to plod on

-- to WALK-- but to leap for joy? And when has he unstopped our ears so we could HEAR the Good News and proclaim it too? And, finally, whenever we found ourselves in the Valley of Death, when has he invited us back to life so that our souls could sing once more?


As we look for the Christmas Christ, let us let go of all our expectations so that he may surprise us by being himself -- for beneath the tinsel and the glitter, there is always more than we bargained for.



QUESTIONS

FOR REFLECTION


* Who is the Christ you have encountered this Advent and how has he challenged you?


* Where do YOU see signs of joy in your own life as well as in the world around you?


* How can you be a "Christ-bearer" for others, a bringer of joy?


* What expectations does Jesus have of YOU?



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Pray

that sanity will prevail and that all those suffering on account of the terrible conflict in Ukraine will find the comfort and resources they need.  



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Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart | www.elizabeth-annestewart.com | e.a.stewart@sbcglobal.net


C. All Photos by Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, www.artfulphotographer.com

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