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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rejoice!

Advent 3, Yr. A; 12/12/10
Matthew 11:2-11
Isaiah 35:1-10

Been near the Paseo, or the Santa Anita mall, or Target in the last weekend or two? Doesn’t even have to have been this year; it’s the same every year in the weeks before Christmas, even with an economy that’s dragging and more shopping being done on the internet. I love to shop, but the chaos of the shopping season really can mess up my attitude and do in my spirit of rejoicing.

It starts with the crowds: crowds in the parking lot, crowds in the aisles, crowds at the understaffed cash registers. Pretty soon, I’m muttering under my breath, “Get outta my way. Make up your mind. Don’t you dare even consider taking that spot. Speed it up.” And before long, I find I better bite my tongue, let my voice become louder and my language harsher.
Next there’s the pressure to get the shopping done, usually in less time than any reasonable estimate of how long it actually will take. So, as the minutes tick by and my stress levels rise, I put my head down, I don’t wander into other departments, I don’t look in store windows, I don’t pay attention to the stream of humanity flowing by…I simply stare blindly at the next step ahead and focus on getting the job done.

Then there’s the noise: different Christmas tunes blaring from every store, computer, and TV display; exhausted children screaming; frenzied adults arguing on invisible phones. The only defense I have is to turn a deaf ear and tune it out.

And finally, when I’m almost done, when I’m down on the bottom floor of Nordstrom’s, ready to head for the car, I remember that I forgot something on the top floor of Penney’s, and that I need to drag my weary legs the length of the mall and up two escalators and stand in line again and then back down the 2 escalators and back through the mall to get to my car and collapse.

Alas, my curmudgeonly mood in the mall would seem to be a long way from the hopeful anticipation that runs through today’s lessons, that of searching and waiting for the reign of God. My intentionally bitten tongue, blindly staring eyes, deafened ears, and weary wobbling legs are in sharp contrast to that place and time when “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”

I’m pretty sure the problem lies, not with the shopping mall, but with me. All in all, I’m pretty happy with my life. I have a great family and a home, I love my job, and my health is good, all blessings I shouldn’t take for granted. But I often do, and as I sit obliviously satisfied, it’s easy for me to imagine that a lack of parking spaces or tired legs when I’m shopping are genuine issues.

Now John the Baptist, he had real problems… sitting in a dark, dank prison, wondering if today would be the day his captors decided to put him to death. It was a matter of life or death for John whether this man Jesus was the Messiah, the one who would bring in the new kingdom of God. And when John’s friends came back and told him that the blind were receiving their sight and the lame walking and the deaf hearing and the speechless shouting for joy…well, you can bet that John’s heart and voice and body leapt in praise, his darkened vision flooded with light and his ears filled with the sound of a new day. It mattered so much to John because he didn’t have the luxury of waiting for tomorrow to look for the signs of the Messiah’s coming.

The fact is, my carefully ordered life may be just a breath away from the terror and tragedy of John’s. But I’m complacent, fooling myself that because everything is going okay today, I can pretend that the unimportant actually matters and I can put off until tomorrow looking for these kingdom signs. The truth is, I ought to be looking now and looking intently. I can’t rule out any place, either: the shopping mall that temporarily plunges me into chaos and shuts down both my senses and my common sense might be the very sort of place where I ought to wait most expectantly. After all, Jesus came in the midst of chaos; he didn’t arrive neatly dressed with a carefully designed PowerPoint presentation on his iPad for a conference room filled with the hushed anticipation of those who’d been diligent enough to pre-register. He came as a helpless baby when the crowds were so huge that there wasn’t even a spare sofa bed for rent, and Joseph, who knew he was pushing his luck on timing, couldn’t see anything more than a string of “No Vacancy” signs on the doors of all the motels. Mary, who recognized a hopeless cause when she saw one, had been stewing all week because she was so mad at Joseph for dragging her here. And when they finally trudged wearily into the tiny, smelly, cold shelter that was all he could find, the animals were making such a ruckus that neither one could even think straight.

That’s how God chose to reveal the start of a new creation, and all who thought they had it figured out, who had tickets for the coming of the Messiah next month at the Embassy Room of the King Herod Hilton, recoiled in stunned disbelief when they finally heard the news. It turns out that they missed the tweets and the Facebook updates, and hadn’t taken time to chat with friend or stranger; they just shuffled through their days, caught up in their own stuff, whether good and bad. And so they almost didn’t catch what everyone else knew: that suddenly those who were blind could see the wonder of a smile, that the deaf were hearing the voices of those they loved, that the lame could jump rope with their kids, and the speechless couldn’t stop talking.

My real blindness doesn’t come in the mall, and my limp doesn’t reveal itself in a store aisle; they’re in my heart and soul when I quit listening to the Good News, when I stop noticing the signs of the One who is to come, when I’m too preoccupied to rejoice. What I truly want is to be ransomed from my afflictions and to return to God’s unfolding creation with singing, to have everlasting joy and gladness, and—in the midst of all the mess and noise and chaos—to proclaim the greatness of the Lord my Savior.

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