Sunday Week 3 of Advent B

Part of our community Christmas is a gift-exchange … but with a twist. Every one buys something simple, wraps it, and puts the gift under the tree. Then come the day we each draw a number from the hat and the person with number one gets to pick a present and open it. Easy! But then Number Two has a difficult choice: delve under the tree for some unknown gift or rip the Charlotte Church CD out of Number One’s hands. No contest! Number Three has to choose among Charlotte, a shiny yellow tie, or whatever mysteries still lurk under the Tree. Are you following this? … Number Five was kicking herself for days because she took Number Four’s candle and then found the gift she would have opened was a rather nice bottle garden!
Which brings me today’s message—be careful which gift you settle for because there’s something better promised down the pike.
The promise of the ultimate gift is shining in Isaiah: good news for the lowly, healing for the brokenhearted, and liberty for captives. Oh, and for good measure, joy and salvation, integrity and praise.
But then there’s John the Baptizer? He was with us last week as harbinger of the final harvest, offering a last chance to maybe be forgiven before the end. He’s here again—complete with apparent identity crisis—knowing only who he isn’t: are you Messiah? NO! are you Elijah? NO! are you the final prophet? NO! Someone else is coming, someone better. … John is the open gift and Jesus is still under the tree.
John is the “almost answer.” In Advent we wait and wait for the answer to all our questions, the fulfilment of all our longings, the satisfaction of all our hopes. The Baptizer is the symbol of all the inadequate answers, the half fulfilments, and the sort-of- satisfactions we settle for because a bird in the bush is worth two in the hand. But the gospel cries out—a voice in the wilderness—“Wait! Wait for the real gift, wait the best gift.” … So what are our “almost answers,” what are we settling for in place of the best gift, what are we making do with in case all that’s left under the Tree is Charlotte Church?
John we know. He’s always around with winnowing fan, and fire, threatening harvest and God’s judgement. We each have our own inner John. But Jesus opens his ministry not with fall but with springtime, not with the scent of bonfires but with stories of seeds, and growth, and new shoots, and green possibilities.
Isn’t that the choice we face? Will we settle for John and his vision of judgement or will we wait for Jesus to unleash life in us and in our world? Can we wait? Can we trust? Can we hope?