Matthew 11:2-19 • December 12, 2019
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ child who comes. Amen.
If you have been in a Christian worship service during the season of Advent – either this year or any other year before – chances are likely you have heard a little bit about Jesus’ cousin, John. John the Baptist or John the Baptizer as he is often called. John plays a pretty significant role in the story of Jesus. Most of the scripture that we hear during Advent, John is present in one way or another.
And most often, when we think of John, we think of this crazy man living in the wilderness, wearing clothing made of camel’s hair, and eating locusts and wild honey. A crazy man running around telling people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” There’s more to that crazy story about John the Baptist in the third chapter of Matthew if you want to dig deeper.
In short, though, John is not only a crazy guy living in the wilderness or simply Jesus’ long lost cousin, John is also kind of a prophet. A prophet who is confident that the Messiah is coming. John is the one whom the prophet Isaiah said would be a voice crying out in the wilderness, declaring “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John is someone whom the Old Testament prophets proclaimed would be the strong, confident person who would tell us exactly when the Messiah had arrived. The person who would let us know when the Kingdom of God was being ushered in with the Savior’s arrival.
Just a few chapters after this image is painted for us of a confident and bold John, the writer of Matthew’s gospel gives us a very different vision of who John is.
Rather than being a crazy guy living in the wilderness calling us to repent.
Rather than a man filled with passion at the arrival of the Messiah.
This John is unsure.
This John has doubt.
He is sitting in a prison cell, knowing that his death is near. He’s no longer certain whether the Jesus he has known is actually the Messiah. Was the one he baptized really the one he, and the rest of creation, had been waiting for all along?
In John’s darkest moment, in his weakest day, he calls out to Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
How often do our lives of faith sound or look like John’s? Living life fully and adventurously. Partying it up, shopping until we drop, oblivious to the needs of others around us as we head toward Christmas at a frantic pace that leaves us exhausted and confused.
And then all of a sudden, we discover ourselves confined.
It might not be a prison cell as in John’s case. Maybe it’s burdensome debt in the aftermath of joyful Christmas shopping or simply a lifetime of irresponsible spending? Maybe it’s a relationship with someone we’ve loved deeply that is anything but loving and healthy right now? Maybe it’s unrealistic expectations you and I place upon a season like Christmas, expectations that only actually come true in Hallmark Christmas movies or greeting cards?
Wherever you may be today, I invite you to join John from whatever prison cell you are in and not be afraid to ask Jesus again “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jesus’ response to John’s question is not what John was expecting. John was expecting a Messiah that would be powerful in ways that would destroy evil people like King Herod, the very reason why he was in jail in the first place. John was expecting a Messiah who would destroy all that was wrong with the world in his eyes, and make it right.
But that’s not who Jesus is as the Messiah. By this point in time though, John is probably wondering if all that baptizing, wearing odd clothing, eating weird food, and preaching in the wilderness meant anything at all. After all, it certainly hasn’t made John’s life any better. Was all of his work done for nothing?
And then Jesus responds –
“Go and tell John what you hear and see; 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 then Jesus goes on to show the crowds further examples of what the Kingdom of God coming into the world through the Messiah looks like.
Brothers and sisters, in this Advent season, what are you seeing and hearing as you ask Jesus if he is the one? How are you experiencing the Kingdom of God coming into the world?
Is the Messiah you are seeking one who will rule the nations with military power and might? The Messiah who is coming into our world is the one standing next to you as you feed the hungry and help the poor in our community with your hands, feet, voices, and financial resources? Work that you and I do together as Good Shepherd each year by volunteering thousands of hours of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars to share Christ’s love with our brothers and sisters.
Is the Messiah you are seeking the one who can only be found in church buildings like the one we are sitting in right now? The Messiah who is coming into our world is the one who is walking beside all of God’s children, in every place and time. That might look an awful lot like a public school classroom or the state capital building or on the internet and social media sites you and I visit or among those living in refugee camps in parts of the world that we will never step foot or among fellow child of God who lives in our own state’s penitentiary.
John’s expectation of the coming Messiah needed to change. What he expected and what God actually sent are very different. How do our expectations of the coming Messiah need the same kind of change this Advent? Maybe for you, they need to change in ways you can’t even imagine while sitting here today? Maybe you have a bit of fear or anxiety about the change that needs to take place? I know my own expectations of the coming Messiah have been challenged and needed change recently.
For the past year or so, Good Shepherd has been part of a mission project with Luther Seminary and the Lily Foundation called Leadership for Faithful Innovation. A recently formed Guiding Team in our own congregation will continue to walk us through this project. In so many ways, this process may change how we see and hear the coming Messiah. At least, that is my hope as one of your spiritual leaders.
During Advent, our Guiding Team is inviting us to share God Moments with each other. To share times when we see the Messiah coming into the world in our everyday lives. These God Moments might simply be a photo that captures a moment or a brief reflection or a short story. It might be a life-changing experience or a simple encounter that caused you to stop for a few seconds and give God thanks.
What you and I are being invited to do is the exact same thing that Jesus tells John’s disciples to do – “Go and tell John what you hear and see.”
As our Advent journey continues this week, you and I will probably again ask Jesus the question “Are you the Messiah, or are we to wait for another?” In our journey of faith, as we ask that question, do not be afraid to tell others what you hear and see. It probably won’t look like a military takeover, but it might bring good news to the poor. It probably won’t immediately solve all of the hunger and homeless issues our communities face, but it might relieve the suffering of one child of God, or maybe even two.
A colleague, Pastor Dave Lose writes, “Because we believe Christ is coming to bring healing, peace, justice, and hope, we act now to make our congregations and communities, our country and the world more healthy, more peaceful, more just, more hopeful.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, may you be blessed in all of your God moments this Advent. I hope and pray that they are moments to show others what you hear and see, moments that prepare the way for Christ, moments that celebrate the Messiah who comes to us. And in the hope that each moment brings, I will continue to pray…Come Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.