advent-candles

Don’t Look Like You’re Sucking Lemons This Season – 161211

Don’t Look Like You’re Sucking Lemons This Season

Isaiah 35:1-10 & Matthew 11:2-11capture

During the Kid’s time we had something to say about joy and what it looks like. We said that it is an attitude as much as a thing. It is expressed in our eyes, words, tone, movement, our heart beat. It rarely, if ever, is witnessed in the face of someone who looks like they’re sucking on a sour lemon.

Why?

Because joy is unbridled, often over the top, exaggerated. It can be about the anticipation of a brighter future as much as about a present state. Joy is a choice.

So it is with Isaiah 35 – ‘gladness, rejoicing, shouting, leaping, joy and dancing’ loom large.

This text comes near the end of the first book of Isaiah – usually seen in three parts – that focus on the events of the imminent fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, to the time in captivity, to the return of the exiles to Israel.

Other commentators divide the book of Isaiah up into three thematic progressions – from King – to servant – to anointed conquerer.

In Isaiah 35 – the Assyrian King has laid siege to Jerusalem but has failed. There is much cause for rejoicing, but the Babylonian threat is just around the corner – which would succeed where the Assyrians had failed. Jerusalem would be taken and its inhabitants exiled.

But for the time being there is a message of hope. The vision is a grand and joyous one – the desert blooming – pools of water replacing deserts – and as Jesus would say to John the Baptist – the blind will see, the deaf will hear – the crippled will walk and leap and the exiles will return.

In a sense the vision came true, but only after the Babylonian captivity. God was looking ahead beyond the exile. But for the moment the mood is exaggerated.

What is exaggeration of mood so necessary? It points us always forward to the further work of God. It says to us – ‘You think God did something great when the exiles returned. Just you wait! Greater things are just ahead – on the highway, the way of holiness.’ [verse 9]

The vision left the people thirsty for more, for  a still better life. Such hopes generated the electric atmosphere in which Jesus ministered.

Jesus found people, including John the Baptist, eagerly looking to God to do more.

Christians naturally see Jesus’ death and resurrection as the greatest of God’s saving acts. And yet we recognise that God is not finished with what Jesus started. We say ‘Christ has died Christ is risen. Christ will come again.’

We look for more.

Our enthusiasm puts us in good company. John the Baptist and his followers would applaud the attitude we have as we move towards the goal.

They too had a vision of where they were going, what they were looking for.

With courage and dedication, they were preaching the coming of the Messiah and seeing it writ large in many places in the book of Isaiah.

He would bring change.

He would baptise with fire.

He would turn the world upside down.

He would bring freedom to the people of Israel.

John was sure of his task – to be the one calling from out of the wilderness proclaiming that we prepare the way of the Lord.

Then he met this man called Jesus. It wasn’t the Messiah John expected. John expected fire – Jesus talked about love.

John hoped for a new freedom for his people – Jesus preached that we must all be servant.

And a king?

Working out of Galilee with a bunch of fringe dwellers – fishermen, tax collectors, etc.

John’s zeal and joy – turned to doubt – so he sent his messengers to ask – ‘Are you the one?’

The answer that Jesus gave was indirect – No simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Instead he wanted John to think differently – the dead are raised up and the poor hear the good news [verse 5].

It’s not what you expected – but the joy of God’s work is to be anticipated.

Stop, look around you, and see yourself with new eyes, unstopped ears and be made alive and anew.

I’m sure the penny dropped for John. He learnt by discovering the truth around him – not by simply hearing the word ‘Yes’.

The joy we have in discovering something new is overwhelming and other exaggerated – think of your own reaction when as a child you found a big lizard sunning itself – or a star fish on the sea shore – or a letter from a long-lost friend in your mail box.

Jesus will often shake us up to get our attention and to enable us to see things around us rather than on the straighter road of our expectations. God is at work.

John went from doubt to perseverance. He re-found his joy and went forward. His mission went on until it was cut short by the much weaker suspicious guilt-ridden and guilty tetrarch Herod Antipas [Matthew 14].

However, as we know, John’s death and Jesus’ resurrection,  is not the end of the story and not the end of God’s work.

Any vision we have of God’s work is necessarily overstated because we have no better way to describe it or contain it.

We don’t know how God will consummate history.

Nor can we define eternity in an accurate and technical way. But we imagine it with a sense of joy through our imagination and our knowledge of what God has already done, and we show it in our grace and love towards others and on our faces as if we were tasting the juiciest and sweetest of oranges.

christmas-advent-joy

 

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