Emilie Bouvier, "Bandaged."
(Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, North Shore, MN)
Image © Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.
The Advent texts from the gospel of Matthew in Year A span from chapter one to chapter twenty four.
This is a wide sweep in the gospel that takes us from:
- the dilemma of Joseph who hears that Mary is with child and would dismiss her without the intervention of an angel (1:18-25);
- to the call for watchfulness and preparation for the Son of
Man who will come at an unexpected hour (24:36-44).
Between the First and Fourth Sundays of Advent the focus is on John the Baptist:
- On the Second Sunday of Advent he warns the Pharisees and Sadducees concerning his baptism for repentance as preparation for the one who is coming after him (3:1-12).
- On the Third Sunday of Advent we hear the question of the imprisoned John the Baptist through his disciples to Jesus, "Are you the one who is
to come, or are we to wait for another?" (11:2-11).
Is John's question still our question in this Advent season? There have been many figures through the Christian centuries that have come with messianic claims and there will be many more. To these false hopes and expectations the words of our four Advent gospel texts in Matthew speak a clear and sure word of proclamation centered in the identity of Jesus, the Messiah.
As we look at these four texts from Matthew, they form a chiasm. A chiasm is a poetic structure of complementary lines in a poem -- ABBA -- which form the letter X, which is the letter Chi in the Greek alphabet:
As we apply this poetic feature to our four Advent texts we will see that the complementary first and fourth texts (AA), which focus on Jesus, the Messiah, frame
the complementary second and third texts (BB), which focus on John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah.
A. Jesus is the one who will come as the Son of Man, and his call to stay
awake for he is coming at an unexpected hour (24:36-44).
B. John the Baptist is: "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight'"(3:1-12).
B. John the Baptist is imprisoned and through his disciples asks of Jesus:
"Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (11:2-11).
A. Jesus is the one conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of Mary, and is named,
"Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." (1:18-25)
John the Baptist's question from our third text is the question we bring forward for our time and a theme that presents itself in all four Advent Sundays: "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (11:3).
As we review the texts once again, listen to the names or identities of Jesus in these four texts:
A. Matthew 24:36-44
The Son of Man (verses 36, 37, 39, 44)
Your Lord (verse 42)
B. Matthew 3:1-12
The Lord (verse 3)
John's witness: "The 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. His 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" (verses 11-12)
B. Matthew 11:2-11
Jesus is the awaited Messiah: "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. And blessed
is anyone who takes no offense at me" (verses 5-6)
A. Matthew 1:18-25
Jesus is the Messiah (verse 18)
The child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit (verses 18, 20)
A son (verse 21, 23, 25)
Name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (verse 21)
They shall name him "Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us" (verse 23)
And he (Joseph) named him Jesus (verse 25)
Into our context these four Advent texts proclaim a word of hope. In his time John the Baptist spoke out boldly of this coming one, was imprisoned for his message, and was beheaded for his messianic witness. In our time we need to just step aside and let the texts proclaim the good news. The texts speak to our time cluttered with all the trappings of our commercialization of what has become a secular holiday. Greetings to one another have also become, "Happy Holidays."
Let these texts be our light and salvation in our time which desperately needs to herald these gracious and glorious words from the gospel of Matthew. Amen.