“He’s Here! Now What?”
December 17, 2017
By John Partridge*
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 John 1:6-8, 19-28
Have you ever waited for the arrival of someone that you didn’t know? Perhaps you went to the airport to pick someone up as a favor for a friend, or perhaps you went on a blind date or to dinner and had to wait for a friend of a friend. In either case, although you knew that they were coming, you had no idea what to expect once they arrived.
In the 1982 movie “Poltergeist,” after several curious, but harmless episodes in which chairs moved by themselves and the Freeling’s daughter, Carol-Ann, could hear voices coming from the static on the television set, suddenly one morning young Carol-Ann Freeling announces to the family in a sing-song voice,… “They’re here.” And when asked just who it was that “was here” she answered, “The TV people.” As we heard this, moviegoers immediately knew that something big was about to happen, but we had no idea what it might be.
This is very much the kind of message that we hear this week in scripture as we celebrate the third week of Advent, and light the Shepherd’s candle. For eight hundred years Israel had anticipated the arrival of God’s promised messiah, but no one really knew what to expect despite all the prophecies that had been given to them such as those contained in Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11.
61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
8 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.
Speaking in a voice that has been assumed to be that of the messiah, we hear him say, “the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me” and “I the Lord, love justice.” The messiah is described in this passage as blessed, clothed with garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness, a bridegroom, a priest, and a source of righteousness and praise from all nations. So many things were said about the messiah that people, even the leaders of Israel and the teachers of Law had all kinds of different ideas. Particularly in a time when Israel was under the domination of a foreign army, many thought that the messiah would be a military ruler who would raise an army and cast out the Romans. In the years that the people of Israel were in captivity in Babylon, people thought that the messiah would be the one who would lead them to freedom and back to Israel as Moses had.
And so, when the angels announced the arrival of the messiah to the shepherds on a hillside outside of Bethlehem, no one really knew what to expect. And thirty-three years later, as Jesus is about to begin his ministry, still, no one knew what to expect. As John the Baptist announces the arrival of the messiah, we hear conversations like this (John 1:6-8, 19-28):
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John is described to us as a witness that was sent to testify to God’s people about the light so that all might believe. And as he witnessed to the people, they asked John if he was Elijah returned to life. The people saw John, saw his appearance, saw that he was dressed like the scriptures had described Elijah, and they recognized that he was a prophet that had been sent by god. But John answers that he is not Elijah, but has indeed been sent by God to announce the arrival of the messiah, that he is the one that Isaiah described as “a voice of one calling in the wilderness.” John says that “among you stands one you do not know” who is so great, that John, despite being a prophet sent by God, was not worthy of untying the messiah’s sandals.
John’s message to the people was much the same as the message of the Shepherds on the day of Jesus’ birth and also like the message from five year old Carol-Ann Freeling in the “Poltergeist” movie.
John wanted to be certain that the people understood that the messiah was not coming “someday” but that he had already arrived and lived among them just as he rules and reigns and lives among us today.
After hearing John’s answer, the question that the people had was much the same as the question that we should be asking ourselves as well.
If the messiah lives among us… now what?
Knowing what we know, what should we do about it?
And in Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24), he answers that very question saying
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
Rejoice always. Pray continually. Allow God’s Spirit to move within you instead of quenching it with your own preconceived ideas about what you think that God should be doing. Hold on to what is good; reject every kind of evil so that your body, your soul, and your spirit might be kept blameless for the day of judgement.
The message of Christmas, especially on the day we light the shepherd’s candle, is that the messiah has arrived and lives among us. There is no need to wonder what we should do next.
Through him, God calls us to be faithful.
There is no need to wonder what we should do next.
The messiah is here.
God calls us to be faithful.
That’s what’s next.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.