The Age of Miracles at Christmas
By Fr. Bill Wigmore
(This sermon was delivered to a group recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.)
Tonight, we’ve reached the Third Sunday in Advent –
It’s the third week of readings that are meant to help get us ready for Christmas.
And if you were here with us last week,
you heard the story of John the Baptist.
John always appears on the Second Sunday of Advent.
He comes storming out of the desert dressed in camel’s hair
and warning us to turn our lives around:
“Repent! Change your ways!” He says,
“Or look out for what’s coming next.”
(We’ve heard his fiery message preached to us before –
especially if we’re addicts or if we’ve ever been married—
and it always pretty much fell on deaf ears.)
But then, every year, John puts in another appearance –
He shows up on the third Sunday of Advent as well –
And at first, we might be tempted to say: “Hey, not you again!
We dealt with you last week – Let’s get on to something new!”
But every year, John’s second appearance comes to teach us a very different lesson.
See, the lessons of the Third Sunday
always compare the message of John with the message of Jesus.
They come to drive home the point
that the messages of these two prophets were not even remotely the same.
John said: “Repent, the Kingdom of God is coming!”
Jesus said: “Rejoice! The Kingdom of God is here.”
When tonight’s story opens, John’s sitting in prison –
He’s been arrested for stirring up the crowds and challenging the status quo.
King Herod’s had him thrown in the slammer for criticizing him
and for turning the crowds against him.
A few more days and he’ll chop John’s head off
and serve it to his mistress on a platter.
You didn’t screw around with Herod and live very long to tell about it.
So, while John’s sitting there in chains,
he’s starting to hear stories about one of his best and brightest students –
a young carpenter from Nazareth.
Some of Jesus’ followers both back then and now get a little uncomfortable
admitting that John was actually Jesus’ teacher;
but the record seems pretty clear that he was.
John had quite a reputation and a huge following –
Jesus was drawn to him – and he asked John to baptize him.
It’s very likely that Jesus stays with John for some time,
learning all that he can –
But then, it seems equally clear, that the teacher and his student parted ways.
Jesus travels north – and his ministry goes off in a different direction too.
There’s very little evidence that Jesus continued baptizing people –
He wasn’t so interested in warning the crowds about what was to come;
Jesus seemed much more interested in welcoming them
into what he said was already here.
Both he and John called that thing the Kingdom of God –
John said: Get ready cause it’s coming soon –
Jesus said: Start the party now cause it’s already here.
And maybe another thing that made these two men different
was who it was that God was inviting to come into his kingdom.
For Jesus, it was the outcasts and the broken –
the ones living on the edge and about to fall off –
These were the ones that Jesus seemed drawn to –
probably because they were the ones desperate enough
to say YES to his invitation
to leave their egos behind and come follow him.
So Jesus didn’t travel to fancy Jerusalem;
instead, he carried the message out into the boondocks to all
the backward, little towns of his day –
to Capernaum and to Nazareth – to Bastrop and out to Buda.
Some of the people asked: Can anything good come out of Nazareth or out of Buda?
But John thought maybe it could – He’d seen God do stranger things.
So he sends some of his men to ask Jesus,
“Are you the one we’ve been promised? Are you God’s Anointed?
The one who’s going to come and lead our people to freedom?”
But, as we said, Jesus was different from John
and if he was to be the long-hoped for messiah
then his was going to be a kingdom very different from what they were expecting.
We tend to think of Jesus as a miracle worker – and he was –
But it’s becoming more and more clear
that there were other healers and miracle workers back in his day too.
And Jesus wasn’t so much remembered
for his miracles being so much bigger than the other guy.
But what he was remembered for and what blew everyone away
was who he performed those miracles for.
See back there in the Jewish culture – the culture that raised both John & Jesus – there was this thing called the purity code, and much of the Jewish religion was built on it,
The purity code told the people who was clean and who was not –
Who was acceptable to God and fit to come inside the camp
and who was impure and had to stay out!
Back then, they thought that the sick & the lame were being punished for their sins –
And the blind & the lepers were being punished for doing something even worse.
The prostitutes and the tax collectors were right up there with them –
and collectively, they were all the scum of the earth.
You couldn’t so much as touch one of them
and if for some strange reason you did –
then the purity code gave you a whole bunch of things you had to do
to make your own self clean.
Getting clean often involved sacrifices of lambs and other animals
that put it outside the reach of the poor.
So they were trapped both in their sickness and in their sin.
They were truly the hopeless ones –
But then one day this carpenter arrived in their towns
and he started turning their worlds and
turning their religion totally upside down.
He began to eat his meals with them, and heal them.
He touched them and he began telling them what sounded like some pretty good news:
He said: “You’re God’s very own kids and you’re welcome in his Kingdom!” –
He said God’s kingdom was being opened up to them right here and right now –
all they had to do was take a step inside
and then do just one more thing:
they had to welcome others into it too –
They had to welcome them in just they way they were being welcomed.
The more hopeless the ones outside were –
the more welcome they oughta be made to feel.
And so when those messengers from John finally meet up with Jesus
and ask him if he’s the one – he tells them this –
He tells them: take a look around and see what’s happening here:
Here, the blind see again and the lame walk;
Here, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear;
Here, the ones who were as good as dead are being raised,
and the poor have the good news preached to them free of charge.
Truly, the age of miracles has come, Jesus said.
And blessed are those who don’t take any offense at what I’m doing.
Well, then as now, there were people who took offense.
The rich & the powerful were especially offended and threatened.
And just like the rich & the powerful & the religiously
proper were the ones who had John killed –
pretty soon they’d take care of this little
nobody from Nazareth too.
But the age of miracles had come –
And once it came, once people came to believe it had come,
and that it had come to include even the likes of them,
then there was no going back to the way things were before.
That little group from backwards Galilee was now on fire –
And it was a fire that would spread all around the world.
The word went out to women and to lepers –
to the blind and to the lame – to Samaritans and prostitutes and Prodigal sons
Wherever the weak, and the wounded, and the oppressed heard it –
Wherever they heard God speaking directly to them – welcoming them – wanting them – the ones that nobody else wanted – it lit a fire in their hearts
It did then – and it still does today.
Our reading from the Big Book is titled a Vision for You.
And I know, when I first came into the rooms,
what attracted me wasn’t the brilliant theology of the Big Book
or the brilliant oratory of the speakers I heard.
What attracted me was the vision that had grabbed hold
of the people I met sitting around the tables.
They were people who were down –
some of them were so far down they should have been counted
out – and they knew it, and I knew it,
and everyone who saw them knew it too.
But for some strange, mysterious reason
they weren’t down and out any more.
For some strange and mysterious reason
they were alive again – and their lives were filled
with new meaning, and purpose, and power.
They talked about a loving God who had found them, and welcomed them back home –
They talked about a fellowship that didn’t care
where they came from or what they had done –
only that now they wanted to change
and now they were willing to help others do the same.
And the Age of Miracles is what the Big Book says has arrived for us too. But being in sobriety is very much like being in the kingdom that Jesus preached:
Some days we’re in it and some days it’s not even close.
Some days we’re happy, joyous & free –
And some days we’re not doing much better than Herod –
We’re out looking to chop somebody’s head off!
Any Baptist will do!
Jesus said his kingdom is here and now –
It’s right in front of us – Hiding in the very last place we’d ever think to look for it –
It’s in our lives and in our hearts,
It’s in how we love & treat ourselves
and in how we love & treat one another.
We’re all weak and wounded – We’re all prisoners to something –
All blind, and deaf, and dead to something or to someone we’re
trying to keep outside our camp.
Maybe it’s an old resentment –
or a very deep shame about something we’ve done
something we’ve been told is unacceptable or unforgivable –
Maybe that would be true for John but it’s not true for Jesus.
With him it’s always now and with him we’re always in.
Are you the one who is to come – or are we to wait for another?
Jesus says that’s completely up to us –
But before we turn and walk away –
he invites us to stay just long enough to look around
and see what’s happening in this camp:
The blind drunks see
and the ones who fell down a lot are learning how to walk;
People who felt like lepers are being touched and cleansed,
Every day new drunks & addicts are being made whole;
Even the ones who were as good as dead are being raised!
Truly, the age of miracles has come.
Don’t leave before the miracle happens and the kingdom come for you too.Amen.
Copyright 2008 Bill Wigmore. Used by permission.