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Year A, Advent 3, 2016 – Promises Kept

December 8, 2016 / Molly Douthett / Advent

Hey everyone, welcome back to More Than Hearing! We are more than halfway through Advent already! Today, we have three passages with varying degrees of interpretation for the traditional theme of joy. Isaiah doesn’t need much mining to find that treasure in the midst of a joyful return to Judea after the exile. James takes a bit more digging. He encourages patience and gives some final advice for living while waiting for the Lord’s return. If you read the entire letter with this lens, you can see the fertile ground that produces joy. As for Matthew, the encounter between Jesus and John’s disciples and the crowd who once streamed out to see the Baptist does not seem to yield anything other than disappointment and subtle accusations. It is in his response to John’s disciples that the seeds of joy come to light; in Jesus’ ministry, the blind have their sight restored to them, those who could not move are strengthened – the list of those who have been touched by God goes on and sounds very familiar to the list of the joyful returning to Judea in Isaiah. In that passage, joyful healing is a promise. In Jesus, it is fulfilled. 

This week’s texts are: 

Isaiah 35:1-10 [02:00]  – These verses from Isaiah are out of time within the history of the people of Israel. This vision of a High Way in the desert with YHWH’s people streaming back into Zion from captivity is included in the run up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Isaiah is looking far beyond what is soon to come and in this vision, he sees God’s promise of deliverance. In Eye smart, we suggest some ways to explore the pathway God lays out in the wilderness using Gilligan’s Island. No, really. Weak hands and feeble knees will be invigorated in those days, so why not squeeze some foam stress balls during worship? YHWH will lead the people back through a dry land on a pathway strewn with a lush, Eden-like landscape so use both Eye and Nature smart and show some photos of deserts in bloom. You’ll be very glad you did! The purpose of the route is to bring the people home, so YHWH makes the path impossible to miss or lose.

  • Primary Expressed Intelligence [03:57] –

{MWD} People –  One of the linguistic realities of Old Testament prophecy is the rare occurrence of the singular second person pronoun when that word is not directed to a specific prophet or king. The God of the Ancestors promises to remember, return, and restore the “people” to the land. American Christianity is often too wrapped up in our mythos of rugged individualism to truly grasp the magnitude of what God is doing here. This return isn’t just a small caravan traveling through the desert; what Isaiah sees is a second Exodus – thousands, tens of thousand, hundreds of thousands (maybe millions?) of people moving through a barren environment, fed and watered by God’s grace until they come back home. Think about how relieved you feel when you pull up in front of your house after your evening commute; now imagine that return magnified by millions of other people at the same time. Kinda makes you want to sing, huh?

{D2} Nature – The prophet paints a beautiful picture for us of God’s reversal of natural depletion and scarcity in the wilderness. At the time when God’s people will need it the most, the desert will provide for their needs with water and beauty and safety from beasts and whatnot. It’s a spectacular portrait, so engaging that this is the imagery we use to identify the text — you know, the one with the desert blooming. The natural imagery is so engaging that we might actually miss the greater miracles nestled in the passage — the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk.

  • Smarts – Eye [05:15], Body [06:17], Nature [07:21], People [08:03]
  • Isaiah 35 worksheet   


James 5:7-10 [09:10] – The Lord is coming! But not right now, so please be patient. Today’s section of James comes from the end of the letter, wrapping up all previous advice with the assurance of Jesus’ return and a request to remain patient for his appearance. Like a farmer waiting for seeds to sprout and grow, James asks his readers to adopt the same expectant waiting. He also gives advice about how to wait and what to refrain from doing – specifically grumbling against one another. We looked into the benefits of developing patience and found a study exploring the connection between it and lowered depression, which we linked to both Math and Body smart. At the end of verse nine, James refers to the Judge standing at the door as a way to encourage readers to make peace with one another, but we thought of the phrase made popular on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In – “Here Comes the Judge.” We have an historical look at that phrase in Music smart. Since James mentions farmers, we decided to follow through with his illustration in Nature smart. And for Self smart, we give some other examples of endeavors that require patience.

  • Primary Expressed Intelligence [09:50] –

{MWD}  Self – When I was a kid helping my father out with projects around the house, I would sometimes get a flash of inspiration as to why Dad needed a specific tool. I would get excited that I had made the connection – jumping over some necessary steps to get there – and reached a conclusion. Dad (whose name was James, aka “Jim”), being an engineer, would nod his head to acknowledge that I had done so (which was awesome!), but then would say, “Be patient.” It was important to follow the steps so that the project would be done thoroughly and nothing would later collapse. I have since come to appreciate Dad’s meticulousness; at the time, it drove me bonkers. James also encourages patience so that the living being done while waiting for Jesus is complete and joyful. These guys named “James” were pretty wise!

{D2} Self – Patience is almost certainly an internal work occasioned by external circumstances. Whether the cause is one’s neighbor or loved one, the folks at church, work, or school, the political process of the state assembly, the Great Arc of History, or your own soul, on any given day, something isn’t going to be the way you think it ought to be. To make it so takes lots of effort. To wait for it takes a lot of patience. No one can give it to you (except the Holy Spirit, of course), and although someone might exhort you to it and coach you in it, it can only come from within yourself.

  • Smarts – Math [10:17], Body [10:17], Music [12:59], Nature [14:16], Self [15:49]
  • James 5 worksheet   


Matthew 11:2-11 [17:53] – What an unusual selection for the third Sunday in Advent, sometimes referred to as Joy Sunday. On first reading, there is not much here that is joyful; John the Baptist is in prison, confused by his cousin Jesus’ ministry. He has heard about what he has been doing, and we offer a special effect about hearing clearly in Word smart.  Jesus questions the crowds about why they went into the wilderness to see John, which we illustrate in Eye and Math smart. Jesus concludes that John is a prophet and one of the greatest men born of women. But in the next sentence he seems to undermine that statement by elevating the least of these over him. What is going on here? We illustrate this topsy-turvy ranking in People smart. I think the source of joy in the passage is tucked into the instructions Jesus gives to John’s disciples that echoes the fulfilled promise in Isaiah where God restores people not only to their homeland, but to full health. For people struggling with ailments, here is a word of joy.

  • Primary Expressed Intelligence [19:21] –

{MWD} Math – Jesus has used the Rule of Three to good effect before and seems to pre-date comedic intentions by his use of The Triple in this passage. Comedians can be savvy interpreters of culture and popular sentiment in that they pay close attention to other people’s motivations, find the contradictions in them, and re-present them in a ridiculous over the top manner. Sometimes, as we laugh at the cleverness of the comic, we look down and see a skewer pointing at our own folly. Jesus interpretation of others’ motivations didn’t lead to a guest spot on late night television, though. Rather, it led and continues to lead to deeper introspection for those who receive the offered Word.

{D2} People – This passage is loaded with relational dynamics! John challenges Jesus’ legitimacy, just for starters! Jesus then challenges his followers on their motives for seeking out John. As Molly points out about a good comedian, Jesus knows his crowd well, because he wasn’t just People Smart, he was People Brilliant! Any way, he swings the people wide around his point before pulling them in tight — Yes, John is a prophet and a great one! And if you think that’s something, just you ain’t seen nothing yet! What seems like a swipe at John is a springboard for people to launch toward the kingdom. Pretty good pitch.

  • Smarts – Word [20:02], Eye [21:56], Math [23:16], People [24:21]
  • Matthew 11 worksheet   



… in Isaiah  


… in James


… in Matthew


Image credit: Copyright: <hakielberry / 123RF Stock Photo



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