It is a custom in the homes of Orthodox Christians to have an East facing wall dedicated to icons. Icons are those uniquely two dimensional depictions of familiar saints and holy figures. There are many famous examples, the most is the portrayal of the Trinity in which three angelic figures gaze upon one another.
As one develops one’s icon wall there are few must haves.
You’ve got to have Jesus!
Good advice for icon walls and good advice for life.
Once Jesus is on your wall, he is often flanked on either side by two Advent figures.
John the Baptist on the left and the Virgin Mary on the right.
The three of them make for quite a crew.
I have been blessed with these three icons and have them hung in my house.
As I pray Morning and Evening Prayer, John and Mary’s canticles, one of which we got today, bookend my day.
The morning canticle is called the Benedictus or the Song Zechariah.
Zechariah, John’s father, sang it about his then baby boy.
The evening canticle is the Magnificat, or the Song of Mary, which we heard this morning.
It is what Mary sings once the Angel Gabriel tells her the news of Jesus’ coming.
As I look at them, I sometimes imagine each singing and arguing with one another, right across Jesus.
These songs, these icons, are the original Advent hymns.
They tell us who Jesus is.
And that is a question John is not so sure about in today’s Gospel reading.
Last week, John was very confident in who Jesus was.
He is almost giddy as he says there is one who is coming with a winnowing fork his hand to separate the wheat form the chaff.
He was so convinced by Jesus’ identity and mission that he, with a scoop of self-depreciation, says that he is not so worthy as to tie Jesus’ sandals.
But this week is different.
John is a little worried that Jesus’ has strayed from the path.
John has read his bible, and he know what to look for in a messiah. He knows the prophetic promises, that “a fire will come out against all the house of Israel” (Ezek. 5:4) and “if any nation will not listen, then I will completely uproot it and destroy it, says the Lord. Jer. 12:17
So, we hear that he sends some messengers to Jesus with some concerns.
Jesus replies, “tell him what you see. I’m giving sight to the blind, mobility to the paralyzed, health to the sick, hearing to the deaf, life to the dead, good news to the poor.”
There is reason to suspect that John knew this.
We are told he had heard what the Messiah was doing.
What we can determine is that Jesus did not turn out to be what John expected him to be.
John expected a political revolutionary. He wanted Jesus to burn the country to the ground. He wanted all of the elites thrown out. He wanted Israel destroyed.
But we know that Jesus came to save.
And so, does Mary.
The argument on my wall begins.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
Jesus has not come because of God’s wrath for our sins but for the love of God’s people.
We know that the revolution of God’s kingdom starts not with an outward revolution but inward one.
At least this is how it started with Mary.
We remember that she was just a young woman, likely in her teens.
What God started in Mary would upend all of her other obligations.
It would overthrow her body.
It would overthrow her fiancé Joseph.
It would overthrow her community.
It would confuse her citizenship.
It would confuse her faith.
God started a revolution in Mary.
And Mary came to see that revolution as the greatest thing to happen to anyone in any generation.
Because unlike so many of the coup d’états and election cycles of our time, God keeps his promise in Jesus Christ.
He heals us from our sin.
He does not take our power but gives us his.
He does not need us to be weak so he can be strong.
He makes us strong in his weakness.
We can imagine Mary singing to John,
The Messiah maybe didn’t come like you dreamed he would;
But God’s imagination is better than ours’.
God’s reign in our life will not be revenge.
In Mary we hear not of God destroying but restoring.
We hear of a God of mercy, a God of healing, a God of love.
We hear in Mary’s song a God of promise keeping.
What God has promised we can trust in.
We can believe that God will bring together the rich and poor, the powerful and the meek.
He will feed that which needs feeding.
And cast away that which needs to be banished.
God started a revolution in Mary.
A revolution that has carried on for millennia.
The very same revolution that bring us here today.
So, who’s in charge of your revolution?
This Sunday do you feel like John?
Like the revolution hasn’t gone as planned?
Ask yourself, who’s plan was it anyway?
Do you feel like you want to be more like Mary?
With Jesus ruling your heart, your soul, your very will?
If so, when was the last time you checked in with him?
Maybe instead of sending messengers, you will find sometime before Christmas to ask Jesus yourself what he wants to overthrow in your life, in your family, in your community, in your faith, in your country.
What promises does he desire to keep in your life?
Think about it.
Pray about it.
He will tell you if you ask.
But whether you ask or not, he will keep his promises nonetheless.