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3 Advent - Matthew 11:2-11

It was a dark and stormy night.

The small band of travelers trudged through the mud and the rain to the bank of the river,

which was swollen and surging, and they stopped, considering whether to keep going.

Saint Teresa disembarked and went ahead on foot: "We are doing the Lord's work, so how could we die in a better cause?"

In the angry river she lost her footing ... and nearly her life.

When she finally stumbled to safety, she prayed, "O Lord, when will you stop with all

the obstacles?"

The Lord answered, "Don't complain, daughter; this is how I treat all my friends."

Teresa replied, "That's why you have so few of them."

The greatest of all God's prophets sits in Herod's prison cell, alone with his doubts.

He sends his disciples to the one he baptized with his lonely, mocking question: Are you

the one..., or are we to wait for another?

Jesus sends back an unsatisfying answer.

Go and tell John what you hear and see, which of course is all any of us can do.

Theological arguments ring hollow in hell.

In the grip of suffering and tragedy and prison, right answers don't help.

Who cares how a flashlight works when you don't have one?

Jesus tries to widen John's view through eyes that have also looked into John's.

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.

John would surely hear the echoes of Isaiah, recognize the drumbeat of the faith.

He would surely see the lives transformed in the direction of God's will, which is what

his baptism and preaching were all about.

And, as professor Craig Koester points out, he would likely also think, "and I'm still in jail."

Why, O Lord?

We can not and dare not presume to answer for God because we do not know.

It's not for lack of trying.

Everything happens for a reason, we tell ourselves, because it has to be true, right?

It has to be true because...well, because we so desperately want it to be.

Maybe there is no reason.

Or maybe there is a reason we don't want to hear, a reason that would thicken the

darkness rather than lighten it.

Or maybe there are reasons sometimes and no reasons other times, and maybe there is a pattern, and maybe there isn't, and maybe there are patterns and randomness, and maybe there is an order that includes some chaos, or maybe life is chaos that includes some order.

We don't really know, and that drives us crazy, so we try our hardest to convince ourselves

that God knows and that God can be trusted.

But John is in jail and the river is fast and deep.

The diagnosis is cancer, which some people overcome, and some people don't.

The blind receive their sight, but not all of them.

The poor have good news brought to them, but not all of them.

There are more people who are homeless than there are blankets and houses to provide.

They say what good have you done, by saving just this one, Tony Arata sings.

It's like whispering a prayer in the fury of a storm, which we also do today, because

prayer does make a difference, except when it doesn't.

Some are healed, and some are not; the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective, but not guaranteed.

And of course this time of year intensifies the darkness as much as it does the light.

The joy of being with beloved family is real.

The pain of being with them, or without them, is too.

Grief and discord and conflict spike; the expectation of seasonal cheer is oppressive when family has died or rejected or wounded or abandoned or abused you.

The wedding is extra painful for the lonely bridesmaid.

The pregnancy is extra painful for the barren friend.

The adorable baby pictures on Facebook are extra painful for the woman who had a miscarriage.

It seems so much easier for the joyful to tune out and forget the suffering than it is for the

suffering to open their hurting hearts to the good news for others that is not for them.

All of it is too much for us to organize or explain or manage, so the fullness of life and death we cannot control becomes too much for us to bear.

We cope by reducing the mystery into slogans and platitudes and denying doubt, demonizing it as the opposite of faith.

But that is a step in the wrong direction.

Anne Lamott writes: I have a lot of faith.

But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything.

I remembered something Father Tom had told me—that the opposite of faith is not doubt,

but 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...

During Advent, Christians prepare for the birth of Jesus, which means the true light.

All your better religions have a holy season as the days grow shorter, when we ask

ourselves, Where is the spring?

Will it actually come again this year, break through the quagmire, the terror, the cluelessness?

Probably not, is my response, when I'm left to my own devices.

All I can do is stay close to God, and my friends.

I notice the darkness, light a few candles, scatter some seeds.

And in Nature, and in my spiritual community, I can usually remember that we have to dread

things only one day at a time.

Insight doesn't help here.

Hope is not logical.

It always comes as a surprise, just when you think all hope is lost...

During Advent, we have to sit in our own anxiety and funkiness long enough to know

what a Promised Land would be like, or, to put it another way, what it means to be

saved—which, if we are to believe Jesus or Gandhi, specifically means to see everyone

on earth as family.

Advent sends disciples into prison cells.

It sends us into prayer and compassion for those who languish in hospitals and grief.

It sends us into doubt and worry and maybe even despair.

It sends us to sidewalks full of tents and urine with blankets and eyes and ears: what do

you hear and see there?

It drives us into the desert and the valley of dry bones to become familiar with the bare, terrifying landscape of God's salvation.

Because it is in the wilderness that water will break forth.

It is in the raging river that solid footing will appear.

It is in desolate lives that hope will dawn.

It is in the nothing that God's everything will do its work in its own way in its own time.

The one who is to come will show up in a cow's dinner dish and die on a cross.

Insight doesn't help here.

Hope is not logical.

It always comes as a surprise, just when you think all hope is lost...

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