Advent 3A:  Holy Way—Holy Home

The readings for the Third Sunday of Advent are

Old Testament      Isaiah 35:1–10

Psalm                    Psalm 146:5–10 or Luke 1:46b–55

New Testament     James 5:7–10

Gospel                   Matthew 11:2–11

Churches used to have big signs that said, “Jesus is the answer.” But people got wise and said, “But what’s the question.”

Nobody needs answers to somebody else’s questions.

When the prophet Isaiah went about making God’s holy announcement that we have in today’s Old Testament lesson, everybody got it immediately. They had just been on a nightmare of a journey into exile.

What kind of journey was it?

From Jerusalem straight to Babylon was impossible because it was murderous desert. So the exiles were driven along the fertile crescent, over 1,600 miles. At a forced march at the hands of the Babylonian guards, that still took you almost three months.

But, of course, at least half of them didn’t make it. The heat, the starvation diet, the beatings from the soldiers all took their toll.

Women were raped, the legs of the old buckled, and fathers and mothers had to be left by the side of the road to die—their bodies and bones to be roasted in the sun.

It was a grotesque parade of the ruins of a society:  The blind, deaf, lame, and speechless.

It was the long, winding—and grinding road to oblivion.

Through Isaiah, God spoke of the answer. Not an answer in any vague, abstract way. God was going to bring Israel home. God was going to bring the people on an express, parkway, road back home.

God’s answer is to reverse all of the misery. It would be a complete reversal of the road into exile.

Instead of the long, long, rocky road that detoured around by way of the fertile crescent, this would be an express lane of a super highway right through the desert.

But waters would gush through that desert and flowers would bloom.

No hungry lions will be ready to devour the stragglers.

But, listen carefully to Isaiah.

This road back will be called the Holy Way. The unclean will not travel it. It shall be for God’s people.

And the home you return to will be a Holy Home. It won’t be the same old Judah and Israel—it will be what God designed it to be in the first place.

So, God gives the orders:

Strengthen the weak hands

Make firm the feeble knees

Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong! Do not fear”

This is a Holy Home where people live not just for themselves but for each other.

These are surely the orders God had given Israel from the time of Noah and Abraham to the time of the Kings. “Take care of one another, and especially the weak and vulnerable – the widow, the orphan, the immigrants and strangers.” And the more well off you are—the more powerful you are—and even if you are the king – you should have the heart of a good shepherd, caring for all, especially the lost.”

This is the Holy Home I’m sending you back to. This is the Holy Way I’m building for you!

So you see, God is Israel’s answer–a complete reversal. A complete return to a repaired Israel and Judah. God says,

“You keep sinning by forgetting to live my love, and spoiling the home I’ve made for you.”

I keep forgiving and rescuing you from your own self-inflicted oblivion.

And now you have really done it. You are a thousand desert miles away from the land, but also a ten thousand miles from the Holy Home I designed and built for you.

But I am going to make it as easy as I can for you to go back.

This is the answer Israel needs 500 years BC.

So, what’s our answer? How is Jesus our answer in the year 2022 AD?

For centuries now the Church, in its wisdom, has said that this Third Sunday of Advent has a special message. And since I was a kid, this special quality has stuck with me.

We have four candles in the Advent wreath – but the third has always been special. The others used to be purple, and now they can be blue—but in the olden days the the third was a standout pink.

It’s classic Latin name in the Church’s calendar is “Gaudete” for Rejoice.

The old Introit for the day was always taken from the end of Philippians where Paul gets all excited and writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice!”

Think of the timing. Since the last several weeks of the old church year we have been talking about death, the last judgment, and in Advent, our yearning for Christ’s coming: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

This all matches the mood of these darkest days of the year. Daylight is fading. It’s dark by 4:30. Darker and darker.

And then comes PINK – and then comes REJOICE!

Dark Days!!! Rejoice because Jesus is the answer.

Yes, Jesus is the answer—the one true thing, brightest and best, that we could ever hope for! 

But what is Jesus the answer to? I think Jesus is the antidote to our selfish society!

It has always been a temptation for us to think this daily life itself  is the problem, and so heaven must be the answer.  We think that highway that God is building for us is straight out of this world and into paradise. The fertile, well irrigated fields, the blossoms, the clouds that we can sit on an play our harps. It’s all not here, but someplace else.

Is that our answer? Is it getting away from this life and the people we have to put up with?

One of the things my wife, Connie, and I have been doing for the past couple of decades has been hosting herding dog clinics at the farm. We have had as our teachers the very best dog trainers in the world. One clinic I couldn’t help but notice, as I walked around among the 15 or so people milling about, that they were mostly talking about those “OTHER PEOPLE” out there who don’t know what we know and who don’t know all the tips from this great teacher we are learning with. They let their dogs get away with such bad habits. They are snobbish and rude.” As usual I got a bit sarcastic, and I started just saying, “Aren’t people awful?”  And we all got laughing about it.

If we are honest, don’t we have to admit God’s Holy Home for us can’t be just being rid of all these awful people and all the troublesome things they cause?

Is Jesus the answer because he is going to come back someday and take us away from all these earthly troubles and take us all to heaven?

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in heaven. But the heaven the Bible talks about comes down here to us in Jesus’ life. God comes down here in Jesus. The heaven the Bible talks about is this world cleansed of the selfishness in our hearts that spoils this home God has made for us.

So, God says to us in Isaiah, “Help one another!”

3Strengthen the weak hands,

and make firm the feeble knees.

4Say to those who are of a fearful heart,

“Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your saving God.

And so, all lessons of this Gaudete or REJOICE SUNDAY say we rejoice because God is doing very THIS WORLDLY THINGS to redeem this world from our selfishness and so heal us all:

Sight for the blind

Hearing for the deaf

The lame leaping like deer

The speechless singing for joy.

Food for the hungry

Prisoners going free

The beaten down lifting their heads

Strangers welcomed

Orphans and widows held up and cared for

Lepers cleansed

The dead raised

And, Jesus tells us that the greatest thing of all is that poor people—the lowest of the low, have the news of God’s love shared with them.  

Robert D. Putnam wrote a book called The Upswing,” in which he described a long winding road back from exile for America. The late 19th century “Gilded Age” saw big shots like Vanderbilt and Rockefeller get filthy rich, but the masses of Americans living in misery because it was an age that celebrated glitz and greed. But from the early 20th century to the early 1960s our society as a whole got healthier. Wealth was distributed. Great building projects and a progressive taxation system benefitted all. Children were fed, the old were cared for, the GIs returning from war were cared for. The lame walked, the blind saw, the deaf were able to speak and even sing out.

But, Putnam points out that since the 1960’s both the liberals and conservatives in our society started going back to singing the praise of selfishness and lifting individual rights way over our duty to one another.

For liberals it was “do you own thing.”

For conservatives it was “force the shoeless to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps…all for their own good, of course.”

And the sad thing is that we have been on this down-swing – away from building community and towards radical, self-destructive individualism, ever since.

What is this selfish world we have made for ourselves other than our exile?

When doing our own thing and being ourselves and fulfilling our needs is all we have, what are we? We have cut ourselves off from those others we need.

When the marketplace lays out all the rules, what happens to the golden rule?

All of the gross divisions, the stalemated congress, the loss of trust in elections and the Supreme Court, frustrate us.

All the sacrifice of the future to nearterm profit has eaten away the beauty and bounty of Creation.

IT ALL IS OUR EXILE – We too are ten thousand miles from the Holy Home God created for us!!

Putnam’s final point was, “We built the road back once; so surely we can do it again. For decades we built things for the common good, and not just to enrich a few – things like Social Security and Medicare and the Interstate Highway system – we can do it again.

But the answer Jesus brings us goes way beyond Interstate highways and government institutions and laws. They aren’t enough. Jesus leads us back to a Holy Home where selflessness is in each home and each heart. Every Day!

Jesus is the answer, and part of that answer to the problem of death is heaven. But heaven is just part of eternal life. Eternal life starts right here, with each other.

The prophets call us on a Holy Way that starts here and leads us to the Holy Home with God in the center and us all connected in love to each other.

The Lord God called us to a Holy Home not of selfishness, or glitz, or greed.

God called us to sharing, caring and thinking of community, not just disconnected individuals.

God did not call us to fix blame, but to forgive as we have been forgiven.

God calls us to a road back home to a Holy Land, and a Holy Life along the Holy Way.

We can help America once again be a leader of big projects for big purposes that help us all.

And we can all be people of healing, selflessness, and caring for community in personal ways this Advent and always.

Jesus is our answer, and so we rejoice this Gaudete!


About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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