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3 Advent - John 1:6-8, 19-28

Many years ago (last spring), we posted 19 days of prayer for COVID-19 patients, medical workers, grieving families, school children, decision makers, the economically vulnerable, and many others impacted by the new virus.

On the final day, we prayed for all who are impacted by this pandemic in ways we forget

or fail to realize.

Today I'm asking for prayers for some of those unnamed sufferers.

Please pray for planners, perfectionists, control freaks, and people addicted to getting straight answers.

This year has not gone well for them, and now, after nine months of struggle, it's the most

horrible time of the year.

The poor souls for whom Christmas must be a certain way, exactly the same and better than last year, now have to navigate travel bans, face coverings, social distancing, canceled gatherings, zoom parties, video worship, financial hits, and the looming specter of another toilet paper shortage, or as one relative calls it, gift wrap.

This season is already a gauntlet of stress, conflicting expectations, deadlines, judgment, private pain hiding amid public cheer, and other pressures we usually don't share at parties.

Add pandemic anxieties and the fatigue of Americans used to instant gratification who are now nine months into upheaval—we're like chain smokers suddenly running a marathon we had no chance to train for—and you have a petri dish of frustration.

Please pray for the Type A among us.

The beloved illusion of control is irreparably shattered.

And the gospel isn't fixing it.

A dutiful group of God's servants leave town and temple to investigate the hot new start-up in the suburbs.

Who are you? they ask the man who has been rebaptizing cradle Lutherans without any known credentials.

Wise, wily John tells them exactly who he is not.

I am not the droid you are looking for—I am not the Messiah.

This approach doesn't go over well at DMV or any other official organization that likes certainty, predictability and profit, church included.

We want to know, name, label, organize, pigeonhole.

Many people, for example, get frustrated with LGBTQIA+ terminology because that's too many choices!

Never mind whether it is any of our business, which it's not, because the whole gender identity conversation opens us up to yet another complex world full of uncertainty and mystery and beauty and possibility beyond our comprehension and control.

It exposes the painful truth that we cannot live other people's lives for them.

We can't manage their feelings, think their thoughts, make their choices, cast their votes, keep up their yards, prescribe their beliefs, direct their behaviors or write their stories for them; Lord knows we've tried.

Please pray also for victims of helicopter parenting and Christian evangelists.

We cannot define others, no matter what the Pharisees back in Jerusalem are demanding, and the God who filled the world and the ark with a lot more than one kind of animal seems far more okay with this than so many religious people are.

We can influence—we can lead a Levite to water—but we can't baptize him without pushing him in, without some violent act of stealing his choice and dignity.

John eludes every effort to pigeonhole him.

Are you Elijah?

Are you the prophet?

Who are you?

Let us have an answer for those who sent us.

The scene would almost be comical if it weren't so common.

Watch any pandemic press conference.

Relive election night.

Ask the internet which lives matter.

This year has smashed the beloved illusion that we are in control, and a lot of people cannot handle it.

Many have doubled down in a desperate grasp for it and also lost control of themselves.

We want answers!

But God gives us Advent instead.

In today's gospel, the good news about the Messiah, we never see the Messiah.

Sometimes the only answer we get is silence, darkness, a cryptic "not yet."

Life won't tell us what day we are going to die.

God is not constrained by our calendars.

We are not the Messiah, and God is not Starbucks, so we don't always get what we order.

That, I think, is why Anne Lamott so wisely observed that The opposite of faith is not doubt, it's certainty.

Certainty is missing the point entirely.

Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.

But we are a people used to having sunrise at the flip of a switch.

The real sun, however—the true light—doesn't work that way.

And among you stands one whom you do not know.

Even in the information age, there are limits to what we know.

Mystery persists and thrives.

We cannot tame it or train it; we can only trust it, which is what the word faith really means.

Paul puts it this way: as for knowledge, it will come to an end.

For we know only in part ... now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.

Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

And now faith, hope, and love endure, these three; and the greatest of these is love, which, by the way, does not insist on its own way.

Love has not and will not be canceled, so we have reason to give thanks in all circumstances, including today's.

And love listens without ceasing to our prayers.

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