The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Based on Isaiah 35: 1-10 “The Desert Blooms and Rejoices”

And

Matthew, Chapter 11, verses 2-11 “John’s disciples visit Jesus”

Opening Prayer:  Holy, gracious and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we carry as we reflect together on your word for us, may all of it be acceptable in your sight.  Amen.

This morning on the third Sunday in the season of Advent we celebrate Joy Sunday. 

It’s a day to ‘lean’ into the prophet Isaiah’s promise that "joy shall come even in the wilderness”. 

Joy will come!

Joy will come is also what I hear Jesus promise his cousin John, the Baptist’s messengers, the ones John sends to ask him: 

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

It’s a shocking question John has them pose to Jesus. 

After all, if anybody was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, it had to be his cousin, John! 

Last week, we heard the story of John’s call to repentance and the confession of sins.  All this in anticipation of John's expectation that the end of the world was imminent and the beginning of the coming Messiah’s reign soon to follow.

Here this morning, we hear the dismay and doubt underlying John's question: 

Have I made a terrible misjudgment? 

Did I get it all wrong, Jesus? 

Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?

What could have happened, then, between John the Baptist’s prophetic expectations and this morning’s doubt-filled question:

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Listening again to this morning’s reading, I can see John, incarcerated for his strident prophecies, and in desperate need of clarity, even if only for himself. 

I see John languishing in prison with his head in his hands, isolated and alone as he instructs his leaders to go to Jesus and ask him:

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Watching the CBC news over the weekend, the very same question ran through my mind as I heard the story about Viola Desmond and her sister, Wanda Robson. 

Surely, they too, must have found themselves wondering the same. 

Were their efforts to respond to the systemic racism Viola faced 70  years ago when she was so publicly assaulted, humiliated, and then jailed overnight for her temerity all for naught?

All this ensuing from that fateful evening in November, 1946 when Viola’s request to sit in a particular part of that little theatre reserved for 'whites only' in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia was denied. 

Viola's refusal to leave as requested by the manager and then the local police got me to thinking about the parallels between her and John, the Baptist’s situation.

This brings me back to John's doubt-filled questions:

Did we get it all wrong? 

Have we made a terrible misjudgment in standing up for what we as Canadian women of African descent thought was our due?

As we learned on the CBC news this last week, neither Viola Desmond and her sister, Wanda Robson, had made a terrible misjudgment, nor had they got it all wrong.  

Their actions at the time and since have not been in vain, as was so clearly evident on the CBC news over the weekend.

In fact, Viola’s actions were not in vain as she actively resisted the injustice of systemic racism pervading Canadian culture and its law courts in the seven decades since.

Indeed, her actions set the wheels in motion for the eyes of the blind to be opened and the ears of the deaf to be unstopped and, in ever widening circles of transformation for the lame to leap like deer and the tongues of the speechless to sing for joy. 

Viola, now memorialized across the country as a woman of great courage who has made history for standing firm in her awareness of her own worth.  Viola's picture is to imprinted on the new edition of the Canadian Ten Dollar bill due to come into circulation in 2018. That good news is, indeed, cause for much celebration!

For me, Viola Desmond’s refusal to leave that small theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in November, 1946 is the very fulfillment of Jesus’ response to the question posed by John, the Baptist’s disciples in this morning’s reading from the gospel of Matthew.  Quoting Isaiah 35, verses 5 and 6, Jesus answers John's question: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? says this:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk…the deaf hear…and the poor have good news brought to them.”

Jesus’ response to John's doubt-filled question speaks to the importance of not getting so focused on our own future-oriented expectations and our prescribed timelelines, and our desires that we lose sight  of God's unfolding reign in the present moment. 

This is the good news for today!

Are we up for it? 

Can we put our future oriented expectations and our prescribed timelines, and our own desires on hold so as to make space for God’s surprising presence to be made known in our lives from God's perspective?

As we continue to move in the depths of December darkness and as we wait on the birth of the light of the world at Christmas, let us not be so future orientated and focussed on our own expectations, desires, and timelines that we lose sight of what good things God is doing here and now.

Instead, let us rejoice at God’s saving actions at work in and through us here and now in this very moment.

For all of this and more, I pray may be so.