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Advent 3

Advent 3

Isaiah 35. Matthew 11: 2-11.


‘The desert will rejoice, the flowers will bloom in the wilderness.’

I was at an old folks meal the other day. And there was, as there often is at these meals, entertainment.

And as a song began to sing my mind began to wander.

It was an old fifties (1959) song by Connie Francis, ‘Lipstick on your collar.’

Lipstick on you collar told a tale on you

Lipstick on you collar said you were untrue

Bet your bottom dollar you and I are through

'Cause lipstick on you collar told a tale on you.’

I bet there are some of you right now humming that song in your head.

But here’s what got me about the song...

How realistic is it?

I mean, how did he get lipstick on his collar?

Now the answer is obvious, because he was untrue, it is in the lyrics of the song.

But that is only true if you take the song literally.

What got me thinking was, how did the lipstick get on the collar?

Just how bad a kisser was Mary Jane that when she tried to kiss him on his lips she missed by a good six inches.

Now if we were presuming that the guy involved is trying to kiss Mary Jane and Mary Jane is trying to kiss this guy, then if they are really bad at accuracy then maybe they miss the lips or slide off the lips and you get some lipstick on the cheeks.

But for two people to be kissing and get the kiss that far off, that is pretty serious.

So then I got to thinking how that could happen.

Maybe they decided to kiss and there was an earthquake just as the kiss was starting.

Or...maybe one of them was on an old fashioned roundabout, or carousel, and just as they were about to kiss then the roundabout or carousel started, leaving one of them hanging there while the other one went scooting off.

It then dawned on me that lipstick on the collar was maybe a sign of faithfulness.

If Mary Jane was trying to kiss the guy and he was stretching to get away then maybe the lipstick would end up on the collar.

Then I thought to myself that maybe I had been watching too many court dramas where the lawyer for the defence was trying to prove the innocent party innocent by brilliant deductive reasoning.

‘The desert will rejoice, the flowers will bloom in the wilderness.’

Trying to work out the truth of a song isn’t that important.

But sometimes trying to work the truth is really important, because it has serious effects for our life.

We have spent the last six weeks trying to work out the truth, or otherwise, of the differing political parties.

And there has been a difference in this election.

In past elections we would get one party saying, ‘We promise you the moon.’

And the other parties would say, ‘They can’t give you the moon. It is a false promise. But we can give you the heavens.’

But in this election we have had non-political parties chipping in: groups of vested interests commenting on the various parties. Like the head of the NHS Providers Chief saying that all of the parties have promised huge amounts of money, but none of them have actually said how they would deal with the problems of the NHS in a practical way, particularly the social care of the elderly,

or the High Street Owners complaining that none of the Parties have said how they would deal with the unfairness of internet shopping not paying the taxes that the High Street retailers do.

The trust in political parties was so low that one of the political parties pretended to be a fact-checking group instead.

Instead of us then believing them we then started to distrust the fact-checking groups.

At least the election is finished and we have a result and now we find out the real truth. The truth between what is said and what happens.

‘The desert will rejoice, the flowers will bloom in the wilderness.’

But then that then brings us to the real tension we have.

How much can we trust God?

For God too has made promises.

The whole of advent is a celebration of the promise of a Messiah coming to pass.

That is why we celebrate this time of year.

But there has always been a tension in our private long, how long before the promises are fulfilled?

I want to honour today the honesty and the example of the Old Testament writers.

At the start of the Book of Isaiah we have Judah in crisis, the threat of invasion is near and Isaiah is saying, ‘One day war will cease and Israel will be a great nation again. A nation not built on war but on peace.’

And here we are in this passage, years later and there still isn’t peace, the country is still under threat of invasion. There is still no security. And while this turmoil is going on the people keep on asking the question, ‘Where is God? When will the promises be fulfilled?’

And God keeps on giving them the vision, ‘The desert will rejoice, the flowers will bloom in the wilderness...Everyone will see the Lord’s splendour, see his greatness and power.’

The answer is clear...hold onto the vision.

But that can be hard.

In our second reading today we have an example of that; John the Baptist, who has just been put into prison for his beliefs.

This is a man who has been so confident in what he believes.

He is the kind of man who has a faith that we would all envy.

You know when you talk about those people who ‘know the Bible from back to front,’ that’s John the Baptist.

You know those type of people that not only know that Bible but live the Bible, that’s John the Baptist.

John the Baptist has the kind of faith we would kill for.

And yet, and yet, here he is doubting.

‘Are you the one Jesus? Or should we look elsewhere.’

And the Bible is honest about his doubts, and I am thankful for that.

It is a time of darkness for many people.

And though the light shines in the darkness I don’t want to diminish just how dark it can get for some.

And I don’t want to diminish just how long some people can feel they are in the darkness.

The Bible acknowledges that there is darkness, but it also gives us guidance as to what to do in that darkness.

The first thing we need to do is admit just how dark it is for us.

We do not deal with things better by pretending we are not in the darkness.

That’s like those folk that when they are lost on the motorway start going faster, thinking that if they go faster they will get to their destination quicker.

If you are lost and go faster you are probably going faster in the wrong direction.

If someone like John the Baptist can be struggling then we can be struggling.

Let’s imagine I am struggling and you ask me how I am getting on and I say, ‘I’m just tired, it’s the workload at this time of year. I’ll be fine.’

Is that attitude going to help me or get in the way of help?

It’s obviously going to get in the way. Anyone that can help, I am pushing away.

And pretending that I am not struggling isn’t going to make me better. Only dealing with it is going to help me.

That’s what John the Baptist does.

He sends his disciples to seek the help of the one person who can help him...Jesus.

And Jesus says, ‘See what is happening. God is doing good things here, if you can’t trust my words then trust my deeds. If God can help others, then he can help you.’

But there is more.

I think that is what Isaiah was trying to get at.

When we are in the darkness the temptation is to just stop, feel overwhelmed, give up, and surrender to the darkness because the darkness seems as if it will last forever.

And Isaiah says, ‘See the greater vision that God has for us, and follow that vision.’

Over last term I was doing this series in Zones. The theme was, ‘How to find contentment?’

What do we need to have if we want to be content?

And I honed it down to five things;

we need people in our lives we can trust,

we need people in our lives we know care for us,

we need things in our life that bring us joy,

we need patience, the ability to wait for something better,

and we need to be kind to others.

And I knew what the kids were thinking, ‘What kind of soppy idiot wants to be that type of person?’

So the twist in the message was the last week I told them they didn't need to do any of that stuff.

I admitted that doing all that stuff I was talking about was hard; being kind is hard, being patient is hard, trusting people is hard...and if they wanted they could do the opposite, but what kind of person would that make them?

Who wanted to be suspicious of everyone, hating people, with no capacity to wait for anything without complaining, not caring about anyone but all honesty, did they know anyone who was like that and was truly happy?

That’s why God gave his people visions of what could be.

Because in the darkness we need to see that there are other options than just staying in the dark.

Within the next week we will arrive at the longest night of the year.

For many the darkness is not only on the outside, they live with it on the inside.

If we find ourselves in that place of darkness we don’t need to stay there, no matter how tempting it is to give up and give in.

We can do what John did, we can go to the people who can help us and seek their aide.

We can do what Isaiah did, we can see the vision for us that God has, and hold onto that vision, seek that vision, follow that vision...until the time of darkness is done, and we truly are children in the light.

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