Third Sunday of Advent + Advent Lessons & Carols by The Rev. Richard Toll

Lessons:
Isaiah 35:1-10
Canticle 15
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

 

 

The things we will never know.

We will never know what Jesus was like as a child.

We will never know what Jesus was like as a teenager.

We will never know about his early adult life.

We will never know who his friends were growing up or who his teachers were.

We will never know how he learned about scripture or his worship patterns, his prayer life.

We can assume he learned a great amount from his mother and from Joseph.

We can assume he learned how to become a carpenter and how to work with his hands from Joseph, and Jesus was probably a skilled stone mason, since carpenters in the 1st century used to know how to build homes made with stone.

We can assume that he knew everyone in the small village of Nazareth where he was raised. A village of about 300 people in the 1st century.

We can assume he worked in a town a few miles from Nazareth. It was a Roman town built for the Romans in the Galilee and was the seat of the Roman government in charge of the Galilee. Sepphoris is the name of the town. It is not listed in the Bible and is an archeological site today. So Jesus would have learned first hand what it meant to live under Roman military occupation and to experience a foreign power ruling over his family, friends and neighbors. He probably observed the cruelty of crucifixion as some of the Zealots rebelled against the Roman presence at a time Jesus was growing up. In order to impress upon the people not to rebel, the Roman authorities crucified dozens of the rebellious Zealots and placed them on crosses along the road until they died and then left them on the crosses until the vultures picked clean their bones.

The cruelty of the Roman occupation would have been a part of the everyday life of a young Jesus and was part of all of his life story.

The hidden years of Jesus have always been a fascination for me and we are only given a snippet of Jesus in his visit to the temple as a young man.

Joseph must had died at some point as he disappears from the biblical record.

But we just do not know so much that we would like to know.

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But today we are allowed to hear from a fully grown Jesus who has matured and has discovered what it is that he is being called to do.

Jesus appears to have been close to John. We know he was baptized by John in the Jordan River. John was like a magnet. People came to him in the desert to see and hear him. John had the kind of personality that drew people to him and his desert spirituality appealed to his followers. He was not soft spoken and if you saw him on the streets in Portland, Oregon you would probably pass by on the other side of the street. He could rant and rave and was the kind of person the established Jewish community in Jerusalem would have ignored. They would not have sent people into the desert to hear him.

John was caught up with the fervor of people who wanted a messiah to come and take charge of what had become a disaster for the Jewish people. The Romans had the Jewish religious leaders in their back pocket and corruption was rampant. The temple authorities had sold their soul to the Roman occupiers. 

So John was in prison. His days were numbered he want to know if Jesus is authentic.

And we hear the response of Jesus.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see, the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

The 1st century in Jerusalem was like a powder keg getting ready to explode. The religious Zealots were those who were trying to bring about an armed rebellion to get rid of the Romans. They made no bones about it. Violence was the answer to getting rid of the violence of the Roman occupation.

The Zealots wanted nothing to do with Jesus. They viewed him with suspicion. Why? Because he spoke of a kingdom that for them did not exist and would never exist. A kingdom of God and a kingdom of relationship with one’s neighbor, one’s God, one’s own self.  A kingdom that defined the meaning of love. A nonviolent message. A message that could not connect with the Zealots’ violent approach.

The Zealots admired John. His harshness and language was a symbol to them of a messiah that would ride a horse into Jerusalem at the head of a Jewish army and take back the city from the Romans.

So John’s followers were not convinced that Jesus was authentic in his teaching and ministry. “Convince us,” they said. And Jesus replied.

We know from the biblical record that many followers of John never were convinced that Jesus was authentic. Baptism was an especially difficult issue in the early church. Followers of John baptized people as followers of John.

So by the time the passage in Matthew was written in about the year 85 AD, it is obvious that John’s role has been held up to prepare the way for Jesus.

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Jesus steps into the void that is being left by the beheading of John. The cauldron is beginning to boil over. The Zealots are looking for a military leader. Jesus is not that leader. The people are fed up with the religious leaders. The Romans are fed up with people like Jesus and John who attract people to them and give teachings that are far from the Romans’ point of view.

The person of Jesus became a threat to the Romans.

The person of Jesus became a threat to the religious authorities in Jerusalem.

After John’s beheading many of his followers turned to Jesus.

The people were hungry.

Hungry for relationship.

Hungry for spiritual relationship.

Hungry for what Jesus referred to as the kingdom of God.

The were searching for their humanity.

They were searching for a way that would lead them into a relationship with each other and God.

They found that in Jesus.

As any authoritative regime has done and will do, the answer for the Romans was to join with the religious leaders in Jerusalem and stifle the message of Jesus that could be seen as a threat to those in power.

And we know the rest of the story.