Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on December 11, 2022
[sermon begins after the Matthew Bible reading. The Luke and James readings are at the end of the sermon]
Matthew 11:2-11 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the 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. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
My friend Beth and I have talked on the phone a lot lately. She’s one of the first friends that I made when I moved to Denver in my early 20s. Our conversations move quickly between silly, serious, sacred, and back again. What a gift. Beth’s mom, Maureen O’Brien Courville, had a few rough years health-wise but her sudden and recent death was unexpected. The doctor told Maureen the news that she was in her last few days of life and within minutes she started telling her kids what she wanted done with her ashes, and the service and music, and then she said, “I am gonna die sober.” She smiled and said with pride, “I don’t care, let them know I am an alcoholic.” Maureen died the next day. Her daughter-in-law texted her words to the other kids so that everyone would remember exactly what Maureen said. Beth read me the text over the phone. I said, “Oh Beth, your mother died healed.” And then she cried while I cried with her.
John the Baptist was on a timeline like Maureen although his story was slightly different. He was in prison and soon to be executed. Regardless, his message was time sensitive in his last days too and not an epitaph but a question. It’s fascinating that he asked Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” John had no time for patience. He was out of time. He wanted definitive answers to his questions. It’s odd that he would have them. Questions, that is. Last Sunday, we heard John’s speech earlier in the Gospel of Matthew about the powerful One who was to come after him. Just after that reading, John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River after almost refusing to do because of who he thought Jesus was. But in prison, John had questions. “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” Jesus’ reply to John’s questions is awesome. Of course, it’s not “Well, yes, wait no more, I’m the one who is to come!” That would be too easy. Instead Jesus points to others who embody the answer to John’s questions – those who now see, hear, and walk; and those who are cleansed, raised, and receive good news. We could summarize these folks into the ones whose lives are transformed, the ones who are healed.
I gotta tell you that that answer makes me impatient even as the James’ reading calls us to patience. In this life, in these fragile bodies, the now and not yet of God’s kingdom promise is only partially revealed. Or as the Apostle Paul says about life on earth elsewhere in the Bible, “For now we see through a glass dimly, but then we will see face to face; Now I know only in part; then I will be fully known…And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” Paul’s words are pretty and they’re meaningful. But in the face of our human frailty, James’ call to patience is a challenge when there are folks who want to see, hear, and walk now, and when there are people who are poor who need good news now. I hear James’ call to patience which makes me hear Jesus’ response to John the Baptist as patience training.
Jesus gave clues about what God’s kingdom looks like. It looks like seeing, hearing, and walking. It looks like being raised and also like poor folks being brought good news. Not in the sweet by and by but in the sacred now. Jesus then praises John as a prophet but more than a prophet, a messenger of Jesus, a preparer of the way, greater than anyone else born. Jesus was ready to share.
I like to think of him as sharing power with John. John was a leader in his own right. He preached in the wilderness about the kingdom of heaven come near. People flocked to see him, listen to him, and be baptized by him. John the Baptist had disciples of his own as our reading today describes them in verse two. Jesus shared power with John as he praised him. How is the question about Jesus answered? Jesus shares his power. Jesus shared himself with his own disciples, with the people around him, with John, and with John’s disciples.
My friend Beth’s mother Maureen shared her power too. The day before she died, she wanted people to know her truth. First that she was sober and then that she was an alcoholic. “I am gonna die sober” she said, “I don’t care, let them know I’m an alcoholic.” She wanted it known that her body held an incredible challenge and a profound hope – both at the same time – so that her truth could serve others who may be actively struggling with their sobriety and shame, so that her truth could offer a taste of something different, a taste of hope in her rejoicing.
We sang the song of Jesus’ mother Mary as a hymn earlier in worship. Called the Magnificat because Mary sings about her soul which magnifies the Lord, proclaiming God’s greatness. She also sings about her rejoicing spirit because she consented to God’s invitation. As Mary sings, she shares her praise for God’s mercy and strength, God who lifts the lowly, fills the hungry, and inspires the rich to leave empty handed – sharing what they have, transformed by God’s promise. Mary sings and inspires a holy imagination. An imagination that acknowledges our need for God’s mercy while we make mistakes that hurt us and our neighbors and, at the same time, an imagination fueled by same power of the Holy Spirit that birthed God’s love into the world for the sake of the world. An imagination that names the tension between God’s promise and the fulfillment of God’s promise as the kingdom come here and now.
As Jesus followers, we are an Advent people. Waiting on the promise of a pregnancy, a baby, a Messiah. Waiting with patience while impatiently naming the frustrations of the human condition. Claimed by hope so then able to tell the truth of our fragility, our pain, and our suffering through the eyes of a suffering Christ. There are times of suffering when the hope feels insufficient. We struggle with why things happen the way that they do. Like John the Baptist in prison, we struggle to see Jesus as the one who is coming and we wonder if we should wait for another. Like John, we long for action and answers when we find ourselves stuck in a box asking unanswerable questions.
And still, like Mary, we sing as our spirits rejoice in God’s saving grace, as we endlessly clear our Advent eyes to see signs of God’s kingdom come near. We are an Advent people, waiting with impatient patience and gathered by God’s grace to proclaim the mystery of faith, a rejoicing hope, and the depth of divine love revealed in the One who is to come. Thanks be to God. And amen.
 Beth gave me permission to use her mother’s story and name as a tribute to her mother.
 Matthew 3:11
 Matthew 3:13-17
 Matthew 12:4-5
 1 Corinthians 13:12-13
 Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Advent Perception for Dear Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/advent-perception?utm_campaign=Working%20Preacher&utm_content=230466817&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&hss_channel=tw-23086402
 Skinner, ibid. I love this line that Dr. Skinner uses about preachers being “under the impression they’ve signed up to be part of the action, not stuck in a box.” It’s applicable to Christians more generally as well.
James 5:7-10 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Luke 1:46b-55 Mary’s Magnificat
And Mary* said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’