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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Advent 3, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 12, 2010

Matthew 11:2-11

Are you the one?’

I’ve felt you coming girl, as you drew near
I knew you’d find me, cause I longed you here
Are you my destiny? Is this how you’ll appear? …

The opening lines of Nick Cave’s ‘Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?’ (The Boatman’s Call, 1997), a song of romantic longing, in face of disappointment and despair. The poignant bridge section sees the lover pine:

O we will know, won’t we?
The stars will explode in the sky
O but they don’t, do they?
Stars have their moment and then they die …

Today’s Gospel is poignant – and ironic. John the Baptist appeared in our reading last week as a mighty, confident figure, roaring out the need for repentance in the face of God’s imminent reign. Now, we see him imprisoned, undergoing an experience to which it is perhaps easier to relate: dispirited, wondering whether he got it all wrong about the Messiah.

What happened to the “winnowing fork in his hand,” and “clearing the threshing floor and gathering the wheat into the barn and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire”? This isn’t a barn John’s been gathered into; it’s a jail!

[We can be mindful, today, of someone else sitting in a jail, facing charges which seem more than a little spurious. Julian Assange is an Australian citizen – regarded a prophet of sorts – with a host of international forces ranged against him. There are even calls for his execution!]

John, who found his spiritual home in the desert, eating wild locusts and honey and preaching fiery judgement, sees Jesus spending most of his time in the cities and towns, attending dinner parties and speaking of love and mercy. “Blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.” Indeed! “Stars have their moment and then they die …” It’s probable that the very same sort of doubts and disappointments lay behind the decision of Judas Iscariot to give up on Jesus and turn him in to the authorities.

John’s question to Jesus has overtones of despair. “Are you the one …?” And Jesus’ response doesn’t attempt to address his despair or doubt – at least, not directly. Jesus simply says, “Tell him what you see and hear”.

The good news is that people are being changed; help is coming to those who most need it, and life is flowing into the lifeless places of the world. A story for us today:

My name is Nolina, I come from Lupane district in Matabeleland North Province [Zimbabwe]. I am a 34-year-old widow living with HIV. My husband, Twala, died in 2006. I care for our three children, along with Twala’s aged parents. My young sister, Jennifer Mpofu, lives with us, and she is also HIV positive.

Life had been so difficult for us, especially after Twala died. I also faced a lot of prejudice because of my HIV status. For some years, my family failed to grow enough food because our four-hectare sandy field had become “tired” following decades of cultivation through conventional farming. We also did not have enough money to buy fertilisers. Almost every year, our harvest would last us about two months. The situation was made worse by drought. We also didn’t have any animal or mechanical help in ploughing. Life seemed to converge into endless hopelessness for my children and me following the death of my husband. I felt like a great burden was on my shoulders as bread winner in a family with greatly compromised livelihood, due to two HIV-affected members.

When Christian Care came to assist us through the Conservation Farming program, I did not understand the benefits. The program emphasises soil preparation, mulching and rotating crops. After looking at the results of the first year of using Conservation Farming, I was convinced it works and have never turned back. I harvested much more, compared to the adjacent plot that was using conventional techniques. I was quick to engage my whole family into action the following season. We expanded our land to half a hectare and started our land preparation as early as July.

That year I discovered that my family was migrating from poverty to the freedom of self sufficiency. The harvest we got was able to take us throughout the year and we could also sell excess vegetables to raise income. Thank you, Act for Peace, for helping to support Christian Care to teach us to use better ways of farming so that we can live in dignity and become more self-sufficient everyday.

Jesus doesn’t give John a particular message of hope for his own situation, but points to the change that is breaking out around him. In this, he can receive hope, because Christ embodies hope for all people.

Sometimes we want Christ to be the centrepiece of our festivities, smiling sweetly but saying nothing, and other times we want Christ to carry out our political agendas, wiping out the oppressors and vindicating our side. Both extremes might be little different from any number of agendas we put on Jesus – to be the guarantor of a successful career, or the provider of an ideal lover/partner, or the protector of our children, or the soother of our anxious souls. Not that any of those desires are wrong, in and of themselves. But when we project them onto Jesus as the purpose of his coming, then we may be setting ourselves up for serious and bitter disappointment.

The God who comes to us comes as the creator and redeemer of the earth and all that is in it, knowing what we need to liberate us, and also knowing that many of our hopes are marketing-manufactured imitations of the life we were created for. The messianic age looks neither like the scorched earth triumph for which John longed, nor the schmaltz of plastic santas and nativity sets.

What I like about Nick Cave’s song is that it holds the tension of longing and disappointment, hope and despair. It resists easy consolations/resignations.

We gather today as people who have found that the agenda of the coming Christ finds both echoes and clanging dissonances within us. Christ is a song we know, yet don’t know.

We are here because even in our disappointments and frustrated hopes lie the seeds of new life and the whispered call of the Christ. “Stars have their moment and then they die …” In broken bread and the presence of the broken Christ we are reminded that it is from broken dreams and frustrated hopes that resurrection hope is born.

So, come, let us gather together, owning our disappointments and frustrations, and let us meet the risen and coming Christ in prayer and in the sharing of bread and wine. Come, Jesus, set us free from our expectations that we might find life in yours.

When have your expectations of Christ (been) changed? How has that led to experience of new or richer life?

… Amen.