Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:4-9; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11 (NRSV) (KJV)

We return to the imagery that Isaiah has been using in describing what awaits those who will be returning from exile in Babylon—the desert transformed, clean water in pools and a special highway set aside for the returnees.

What a contrast to what greets refugees today. In Pakistan there is still water submerging villages and people even as winter comes to that part of the world are living in tents. Our church has been asked to pray this weekend for Haiti as it struggles with insufficient everything more than a year after the earthquake. And now cholera, the disease propagated by dirty water and unclean utensils, is reaching epidemic proportions.

Rather than looking to see the lame walk, the eyes of the blind opened, the ears of the deaf unstuck, refugees all around the world ache to experience food and water safety and basic medical care for their children.

Yet God is as much in the picture of the refugee camps as in this vision of restoration. God is present with them and us in our situations. They are being helped by a host of relief workers often working 18 and 20 hour days. Many have been deployed by the UN but don’t make the news because American audiences can only take so much human misery and suffering. We need our comedies and reality shows.

But when I say ‘we’ I refer particularly to those who won’t take the time or give the resources to help even locally and sadly we see all around us people going about their lives without a thought beyond what’s next on the ‘to do’ list.

But I think of those of us here in ministry and mission together, and I take heart. Soon if not already, the Operation Christmas Child ‘shoeboxes’ are being distributed. Eight sponsored children in the parish of Zuzu are able to go to school and have regular nutrition. Orphans are being benefited by people from this church who are supporting the North Country Mission of Hope, and Barbara Dobilas is hands-on.

Here locally we have supported Newburgh Loaves and Fishes generously and the cash is coming in to help put together the Christmas bags which will be distributed from Good Shepherd. And we are looking to the next Episcopal churches-sponsored Habitat build.

Some of our members are making a difference through the work of service organizations like Rotary International and the Lions. Others are participating through their schools.

The need is great; some would say overwhelming and yet every effort makes a difference. I’m reminded of the story of the man who comes upon a boy who is picking up starfish that have been washed up by a storm and throwing them back in the water. The beach is littered with starfish and the man asks what difference the boy’s efforts will make. The boy tosses another starfish into the ocean and says: It makes a difference to the ones I can throw back.

I am sure that many of us like Marianne and me are being deluged by requests for gifts from colleges and charitable organization. We can’t help all of these worthy causes but we can make some difference to a few.

I think that all Jesus asks of us is that we care and do something about it. I always find myself going to Matthew, Chapter 25, in which Jesus speaks of those who will be rewarded when the Son of Man comes in all His glory and the angels with him. Of the two groups, one saw and responded. The other either saw and did nothing or were blind to the situation completely.

In the midst of the Home Depot and Lexus ads for super gifts for that special someone, it is hard to remember that the gift-giving began with God who gave us the gift of His Son. We give gifts because God has already given us the most precious gift. We forgive because we have been forgiven. We love because He first loved us.