A sermon from 2004 preached on the third Sunday of Advent.
“What are you Dreaming Of?”
Luke 1:47-55, Matthew 11:2-11
December 12, 2004
Community of Grace Christian Church
St. Paul, Minnesota
I don’t know, but I sometimes wonder if we start to dread this time of year more as we get older. It’s the little things that start to bother me about all the hype surrounding Christmas. For instance, on my way to work every morning, I pass by the Marshall Fields store in downtown Minneapolis. They have several Christmas window displays all centered around the theme, “What are you dreaming of?” And then they have piped in music to accentuate the theme. Actually it’s only one song, “White Christmas,” that is played over and over. Now it is played by different artists, so you get a traditional version one moment and a hip-hop version the next, but it’s still the same song. I have to say, that passing by this display, five days a week and having to hear “White Christmas” all the time, has wonder if this is what Christmas in Hell would be like. I think for the remaining few weeks of the season, I will just walk on the other side of Nicollet Mall.
As annoying as that display is, it’s theme does make sense at this time of year and it relates to today’s texts. “What are you dreaming of?” What are your hopes and dreams? And how does that relate to the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ?
In the texts today, we meet two people who have different dreams of the Savior. The first is John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. John was a fiery preacher and preached repentance in order to be safe from God’s judgement. Last week’s gospel tells us a little about John’s version of the coming of Jesus. Here’s what John said when some Pharisees came to be baptized:
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. b c 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
So, John we can tell from this that John would not do well with pastoral care. John had a vision of God as a righteous judge that would come and take names. He wanted a God that would punish the wrongdoers to everlasting punishment. His Jesus was one that made people quake in their boots.
So, he was a little confused when he began to see that his cousin was not all that he was cracked up to be. Here was John in prison and soon to be executed for challenging those in power, and he had to wonder if this was all worth it. He saw a man that was not acting like the righteous judge, ready to kick some theological butt on those who oppressed others. Instead he heard of a guy that healed people, met with all types of people including the dreaded Pharisees and was kind of on the meek side. John had to wonder if all of his rabblerousing was for naught. He was dreaming of a mighty warrior and well, he didn’t see that in Jesus.
Now look at Mary. This passage from Luke is called the Magnificat, where Mary announces the wonders of God. It is one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture. At the time, Mary was young, an unmarried teenager who happened to be pregnant. If that’s a bad position to be in today, it really was a bad position back then. And yet she thanks God that she has chosen her, a poor Jewish girl, to give birth to the one who would bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly. Mary’s version of the Christ was not one of a spiritual Rambo who would destroy, but of one that had done great things in the past and that looked with favor on the powerless and the lowly, the nobodies.
So, what are you dreaming of? Who is Jesus to you? I think it would be safe to say that we don’t expect Jesus to be this Rambo Savior. However, many tend to think that Jesus was simply a good man with good teachings. While that is somewhat true, it’s not a complete picture. The reason we celebrate Advent and Christmas is that God came down to earth to be with humanity and to liberate us from sin. A powerful God, became a helpless baby, who then became a poor, itinerant rabbi who touched the untouchable, and talked to those to others shunned. Jesus is became, Emmanuel or “God With Us.” The noted author C. S. Lewis once said this about who Jesus was:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either he was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
If we hear Jesus’ response to John, we have to conclude that this is the One whom was promised, God who came to earth and walked among us. And because he lived with us, he made all the difference in our lives.
Recently, I was listening to National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” it’s afternoon news program. A commentator talked about how he tended to not think much about Christmas since it focuses on the baby Jesus who did not say anything controversial. He believed Christians should focus on Easter when Jesus rose from the dead instead of this quiet Jesus that suits our commercialized culture.
While I agree that Christmas is too commercialized, he misses the point of this time of year. Advent and Christmas are not about shopping or about a silent Jesus, as much as it is about God coming to earth: and because God came in the form of Jesus, the sick are healed, the hungry are given good things and the lowly are exalted. Salvation has come in the form of a baby.
So, what are you dreaming of?