Don't Shoot the Messenger

“Don’t shoot the messenger.”

A phrase we’ve all heard before and maybe even have said ourselves. When we say it, what exactly are we communicating? Normally, we are putting it out there that these are not necessarily our words but that we are the bearers of a message that may not fully represent who we are or what we believe.

It’s a bit of a half-hearted way of communicating a word to a group of people. You know these types of messengers, don’t you? The ones who take little responsibility for what’s being said and come off as a bit jaded or cynical.

In this Christmas season, we see these types of messengers in the films we watch.
A cynical Santa, mom and teacher that look at Ralphie and crush his dreams of owning a red Ryder BB Gun by declaring, “You’ll shoot your eye out kid.”

The poor postman who has the daunting task of delivering Clark Griswold’s “bonus” that ends up being the Jelly of the Month club.

Scott Calvin who finds himself in the predicament of becoming Santa Claus when he doesn’t believe in him and certainly doesn’t want that responsibility.

These messengers are not people we want to be, nor are they ones we want to listen to.
But, there are the messengers who we completely buy into. They are endearing because they wholeheartedly believe in what they are doing, and when they come on the screen we pay attention.

There’s Cousin Eddie who is quite the character, but when he brings Clark’s boss into the house with a bow tied around him, you hear the message loud and clear. And there certainly isn’t a doubt about whether or not he backs up what he is saying.

Buddy the Elf captures your heart from the start with his loyalty to the way of the elves and Santa. He believes in the good of everyone. His naivete leads him to praise the coffee shop for having the world’s best cup of coffee, and drives his belief that all people and creatures need a hug. When it is time to prepare the way for Santa, Buddy spends the whole night preparing the store, exclaims with pure joy, “Santa! I know him!” and can spot an imposter who smells like beef and cheese immediately. He is a good messenger for Santa because he knows him, loves him, and believes in him.

Of course, we can’t forget sweet Linus who speaks up in the midst of the chaos of the Christmas play reciting Luke 2 and reorienting everyone back to the truth.

These messengers grab our attention differently because each of these people fully believes in what they are telling us, and as a result, they change the lives and thoughts of those around them.

Our lectionary today presents to us a whole cast of amazing messengers. People who have a story to tell because they carry deep within them the good news that a Savior is coming. People who have seen the world going sideways and chosen to cling to the truth that God can and will change the world.

Listen to their words.

Zephaniah declares:
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,

    O daughter Jerusalem!15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,    he has turned away your enemies.The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;    you shall fear disaster no more.
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
    he will renew you[a] in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
18     as on a day of festival.[b]
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,

These are words spoken by someone who has been waiting and hoping and praying for the One who would come and restore all things. This message isn’t something that he’s concocted to make himself feel better, but it is rooted in the hope of the promises of God. It’s a message we want to hear and need to hear.

God will gather you up, pull you close and rejoice over you with singing. That’s good news for us and the world.

In our Gospel, John the Baptist carries on the message of good news by both challenging and encouraging the people to look for Jesus and be ready.

John has had a supernatural, intimate knowledge of Jesus for a long time as the Scripture tells us “he leapt in his mother’s womb” when Mary and Elizabeth meet and are both with child. He doesn’t just know of Jesus, but deeply knows the One who is to come and carries the mantle of telling the world about him.

John knows that the Messiah that the people have long-awaited is here and is about to shake things up in a way they could never imagine.

He declares, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance…Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise. Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you. Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages…I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Luke’s gospel goes on to tell us, that with many other exhortations including calling the people a brood of vipers, John proclaimed the good news.

There is good news in what John is saying and the people receive it wholeheartedly because they are the ones that have been taken advantage of, are hungry, and stand in need of someone to make things right. This message is so much more than beautiful manger scenes, greenery and festive celebrations. It is the conviction that God alone will restore order and bring justice to the world through the gift of a baby born in the most ordinary of places.

This message is a balm to a broken and weary world. A world that knows longing and spiritual fatigue all too well.

I came across an essay written by a Canadian author and teacher, Sarah Bessey, entitled Advent is for the Ones Who Know Longing. In this essay she writes,

Advent simply means “coming” – so for me, it is about the waiting. When people talk about “living in the tension” I think of Advent. It’s the time when we prepare to celebrate his birth and we also acknowledge that we are waiting here still for every tear to be wiped away. I think of the waiting for the Christ child, yes, and I think of the still-waiting for all things to be made right, for our longing for Shalom. Would we be so filled with joy at his arrival if we weren’t so filled with longing already? If Christmas is for the joy, then Advent is for the longing.
She goes on to write about how she experienced numerous miscarriages, and how the joy she experienced when she did have a child was deeper because of the longing and waiting and hoping. She speaks to this tension of joy that comes out of sorrow and pain, and God’s redemption of the world as she knows it.
Our family has experienced this same pain and joy through miscarriage. We lost a child while we serving our church in Columbus, and the longing of not just us but the entire congregation was palpable. When I was pregnant again after the loss, the congregation threw the biggest baby shower I have ever been to because I think we all shared in this hope for God to show up. And God did. Our Isabel was born almost a year to the day that we found out we miscarried our second child.
The waiting, the hope for things to be made right, the joy of redemption – they were all real to our community of faith. They were real to the people Zephaniah and John were speaking to. And they are real to us today.
On this Third Sunday of Advent, we light the pink candle which has historically symbolized joy for the church. The change in color serves to remind us that as wait and anticipate, and often find ourselves tired or frustrated, there is still joy because we know that the longing is temporary. It is a visible sign of the complex and beautiful connection of sorrow and joy, longing and fulfillment. 
Bessey goes on to say,
I’m waiting for all things to be made right. Aren’t we all? I’ll be honest, I’m not feeling the joy much these days. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m learning to be okay with the sadness that rises, with the frustration of a broken world, with longings still unfulfilled, with the profound ache in my human heart for all things to be restored, to be redeemed, to be whole. I’m learning to turn towards a third way: the one that holds both the joy and the sorrow, the one that picks up a small stone to move the mountain in small acts of faithfulness. Advent is one small stone.
People I love are struggling financially or emotionally or spiritually: real honest pain. I need my Saviour who suffers with us, my God who weeps, who longs to gather us to himself as a mother hen gathers her chicks. Now that I have wept, now that I have grieved, now that I have lost, now that I have learned to hold space with and for the ones who are hurting, now I have a place for Advent. Advent is for the ones who know longing.”

My favorite Christmas carol is Oh, Holy Night because it captures the truth of Advent and the long-anticipated Christ so beautifully.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
til he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.
For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.

Advent is the anticipated dawn of a new morning. It is hope for a weary world. It is a word of peace over a troubled soul.
Advent is for the ones who know longing.

Sarah Bessey Article: