Third Sunday in Advent, Year A

Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55;                                     WinterRectory

James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Continuing with our Advent themes of waiting and watching for what happens when God comes, when Emmanuel, God-With-Us, enters the world and enters our lives, we are inundated in this week’s scriptures with the promises of abundance, liberation and justice for the oppressed. The earth is healed and becomes fertile, life-giving land. People are healed – the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk. When God comes, all of creation becomes not just new, but what it was intended to be in the first place.

In our Hebrew scriptures we discover that God’s kingdom is not a sentimental utopia of shallow prettiness where a wand is waved and all is well. God’s kingdom is the empowering reality of wrongs made right. The ugliness of illness, the strife and discord of poverty, the distress of famine and want, are not just placated with holiday dinners at the downtown rescue mission. They are transformed through God’s power so they are no more. Even those who have been in exile or imprisoned or estranged are ransomed and brought home to walk the God’s highway foretold by the prophets. This way is crowded with those who have only known oppression and loss, widows, orphans and strangers. It is a road where even fools cannot get lost. In God’s kingdom, the very social order of the world is turned upside down. Or perhaps, turned right side up since all becomes the way in which God intended creation to be.

Mary’s song of joy echoes the transformation of the world with the coming of God heard in the Hebrew scriptures. James encourages us to take heart because this transformation does not happen overnight. The writer of this epistle uses the imagery of a farmer waiting for her fields to come to fruition and ready for abundant harvest. It takes time and patience. In Matthew Jesus tells the imprisoned John the Baptist that signs of God’s kingdom are happening. God has come! And not only has John been the faithful messenger of the coming but all who are part of God’s kingdom have as much if not more power as John to herald the Good News.

Stories that enhance the scriptures this week will hold images of reversal of fortune that are just, from worse to better under the most adverse circumstances. They will hold metaphors of revelation and uncovering the true essence of reality as peace, healing, unity, justice and abundance for all. Images of healing of bodies, healing of the land, healing of relationships might be helpful. Journey stories that move characters from tough situations into redemptive ones as they encounter help along the way could help a pastor reveal the deeper meanings of the scripture. Stories that hold healing songs of power similar to Mary’s song and the psalm could also enhance the texts.

Stories

While my first love is to tell folk or sacred stories from different traditions to illuminate Judeo-Christian scripture, during Advent and Christmas I often turn to the abundance of good stories in contemporary children’s picture books. This week I recommend one such story, Christmas Tapestry, by Patricia Polacco who is the author and illustrator. In this story a boy, the son of minister, is spending his first Advent/Christmas season in a new town. And he is not particularly happy about it. Everything seems dull and not as good as it was in their old hometown. When the main wall in the church chancel is damaged by water from broken pipes, a series of events is set off that results in the boy helping a couple who were separated years ago during the Holocaust in Germany reunite. The boy, as well as his family and his dad’s congregation, experiences the miraculous presence of God’s justice and healing in the face of human history’s participation in evil and separation from God.

         There is also a Chinese folktale in Barbara Berger’s book, Animalia, that is useful with its images of reversal, liberation and justice. A prince learns how his actions and pleasures affect the well-being of others. The story is entitled “Doves” and can also be found at http://www.wisdomcommons.org/virtue/82-kindness/parables.

Story Sources

         Christmas Tapestry is by Patricia Polacco. It is published by Philomel Books (New York, NY: 2002).

         Animalia is by Barbara Berger. It is published by Celestial Arts (Berkeley, CA: 1988).

         The story, “Doves”, is also found on the website, www.wisdomcommons.org under the heading “Kindness.”

Questions for the Preacher/Storyteller

  1. How do the lectionary scriptures speak to the transformation of the fabric of society through the healing of relationships as seen in the stories?
  2. The stories demonstrate instances of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom in the brokenness of the world. Are there instances of similar in-breaking of God’s Kingdom in your congregation?
  3. The prince in the story, “Doves”, has to look past a surface, sentimental kindness to discover the real meaning of justice in order make transformative life-changes. How do the scriptures as well as the stories invite us to do the same?

 ©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2013. May be reprinted only with permission.


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