Advent 3A; Matthew 11:2-11
Today, Advent 3, is the Sunday of Joy. Almost all of our scripture texts today have joy as a prominent piece of the reading. Isaiah is joyful from beginning to end. “The desert shall rejoice, the crocus shall rejoice with joy and singing . . . everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.” The Psalm sings of justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, freedom to prisoners, and the blind regaining sight. Jesus refers to those very things when telling John's disciples about what is happening. And even in the optional reading today which we did not use, the Magnificat, joy is all around: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. In the dark of the season, today brings joy.
As we read through those passages we can't help but get caught up in their joy.
John's disciples come to Jesus asking if he was the one who is to come or should they wait for another? Jesus doesn't say, “I am he.” Instead he says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” This sounds like joyful good news indeed.
But we need to be careful that our joy isn't simply tied to outward physical manifestations of those things. We had a blind visitor last week. How wonderful and joyous it would be if she regained her sight. We have several people who require the use of walkers or roll-abouts to get around. How wonderful and joyous it would be if they all suddenly were as mobile and agile as Charlie's grandfather in “Willy Wonka.” How wonderful and joyous it would be if people were cleansed of their diseases and healed. But if all we're looking for are those physical manifestations, we will find ourselves disappointed.
I say this not because I don't believe in miracles, because I do; but because the joy being described in the scriptures is found in the goodness and wholeness of the Lord. The Catechism tells us that the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. It is that restoration that leads to joy.
Blind seeing, lame walking, diseased cleansed, deaf hearing, dead raised – these are all symbolic of our restoration to unity with God and others. Some examples:
The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal. We have probably heard countless times that all people are equal in the sight of God. But how long was it before all really meant all? How long was it before we began to see value and worth in all people? I could argue that we aren't there yet, and that we still see some people as inferior and less than. Even though we've made strides by working toward equal rights, a blindness still remains.
Or think about how often we have heard stories of injustices that get ignored because those who cry out for help are viewed as insignificant. My wife and I watched “Enola Holmes 2” on Netflix last night. It's a fictional story of Sherlock Holmes' younger sister who wants to be a detective. The case involved women at a match-making factory and a new sulfur compound that was killing the women. As it is, this borrowed from a real life situation where women in an English match factory cried out for help and eventually went on strike due to the conditions. Even though they cried out for justice, our deafness still remains.
Or think back to when the American's with Disabilities Act was passed. There were any number of businesses who refused to make changes because it would cost too much, or looked for loopholes so they wouldn't have to comply. But because many businesses did comply, people who were considered lame now had access to places they had never had access before.
These are just a few examples where we can look past the obvious physical nature of some people to see how they might be fully included – restored – with the larger community. Ultimately the ushering in of the kingdom of God is the restoration of community. When we help create a holy community where there are no outcasts, we help restore people to wholeness and we help bring about God's kingdom of the beloved community.
Another aspect of this restoration is this: so often we see the blind, deaf, lame, diseased, etc. as Other; which, of course, is part of the problem. When seen as Other, they become an inconvenience to those of us who are not those things. When that happens, I think we ourselves become the blind, deaf, lame, diseased, etc.
For instance, I'm leading a small group through a program called Sacred Ground that examines issues of race and faith. It has been eye-opening to see how systems of racial inequality were created, how they continue to be sustained today, and how bad and brutal it was and is. I feel like a blindness which I didn't know I suffered from is being lifted. As we talked recently, we are all becoming more aware of seeing those things we've never seen before.
What if, when Jesus says, “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear,” he is not only talking about those others who suffer from all of the above, but about us? What if, in ushering in the kingdom of God, Jesus is saying that WE are the blind, lame, diseased, and deaf? If that's the case, we have a lot of work to do.
This joyfulness in the Lord is now requiring us to open our eyes and see injustices where they occur and see all people as equals and children of God. This joyfulness in the Lord is now requiring us to open our ears and hear the pleas and claims of those who have been ignored and mistreated as Other. This joyfulness in the Lord is now requiring us to ensure that those who are traditionally left by the side of the road are picked up and walked back into the community fully restored and valued. This joyfulness in the Lord is requiring us to be cleansed from sin, repent, and return to the Lord.
Advent is the season of preparation and of the already and not yet. As we prepare for the coming of the Lord, let us not only look for instances where others are healed and restored, but let us look for ways in which we ourselves can be healed and restored. And then, when those two things are accomplished, the kingdom of God will be among us and there will be much rejoicing and singing.