Monday, December 12, 2011

Third Sunday in Advent

Matthew 11:2-10 (ESV) Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples [3] and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" [4] And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: [5] the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. [6] And blessed is the one who is not offended by me." [7] As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? [8] What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. [9] What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. [10] This is he of whom it is written, " 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.' “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” The question is jarring. John hears of all the great things the man he proclaimed to be “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” was doing, and has to ask this question. A prophet has to ask? And this really makes it hard for many to swallow. Some try to say he was giving his disciples a helpful nudge in the right direction. Perhaps. But then, I don’t have so much a problem with John just trying to reassure himself as he sits awaiting execution in a dungeon. I mean the disciples all scattered as Jesus was being tried, Peter waffled and denied Christ three times that evening alone, and in another way later on in Antioch, where Paul had to confront him for being a hypocrite. So that as the sobering weight of death hangs over him, John the Baptist asks for reassurance, is not that hard a thing for me to get my head around. Reexamining our faith from time to time, looking at the sources, seeking to have it reaffirmed, well we could perhaps all take lessons from John the Baptist in that! This is why we study scripture together and alone, come to church to hear the gospel proclaimed, hear once again that our sins are forgiven, taste redemption in bread and wine, our faith nourished in the Body and Blood, confess our sins, and confess the faith with new members as they are baptized into the one true faith that is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Have you never asked this question of yourself? John is staring at death, rotting in a prison. I dare say we are not too far removed from his situation. Perhaps we too hear of all the things Jesus did for others as he walked the shores of Galilee. We experience the death of loved ones, and perhaps it’s a bit easier when it is a grandparent, a distant relative, emotions are a bit higher when it is a spouse, a close friend, a mom or a dad. We are reminded with each of our own pressing mortality. Prison? Don’t know about you, but there are days I feel trapped. Listening to the debates last night, I wondered how nice it would be to have their problems. I doubt it would be a whole lot better though. Experience says we all have our demons, and though money can solve a lot of problems, sometimes it creates problems I would not want to deal with. But when the bills come piling in every month, my blood pressure goes up. Does yours? Has it ever? Do you feel trapped? Or perhaps it’s a personality quirk you can’t seem to get rid of? I often resolve and pray that God would teach me to be a bit more patient with others, to reign in my sarcasm that isn’t always regarded as witty and charming, even at a cocktail party. On the opposite spectrum, perhaps you wish you could stand up for yourself a little more and not let everyone walk all over you. We all want the approval of others, don’t we? Maybe it is some sin you hide deep in your soul, one you can barely confess quietly before the Lord during the moment of silence on a Sunday morning, a sin you return to that leaves you feeling dirty and ashamed? Maybe it’s a relationship that doesn’t play out in a God pleasing way. Maybe one, where your love is not reciprocated, your person not respected, and yet you stay, praying for a change of heart. Perhaps, you spend hours in prayer, and wonder where things went wrong, why your life just doesn’t seem quite as fulfilling as your heathen neighbors who despite a life full of crass sin, somehow stay married, have three houses, and more toys than you care to list, and your left wondering how to buy Christmas presents your children will enjoy whilst keeping the house heated in the midst of December. Maybe now we understand the thrust of John’s questioning? “Are you the one to come, or should we wait for another?” Trapped, enslaved to sin, dancing around a volcano expected to blow, knowing that distant bell tolls for thee. Too much. Jesus doesn’t ignore these earthly problems. He gives us our daily bread. Each day we wake up. But whereas Our Father in heaven gives us what we need, this world gives us tribulation, and all we can really do is pick up our cross and follow Jesus. They come in many different shapes and sizes, custom tailored. For John, finally in the end, it was to spend his last days in a dingy cell, to die at the hands of a tramp, dancing for the amusement of a perverted father and his friends. Why shouldn’t he want out, and if Jesus could raise the dead? Why doesn’t he set him free? The answer Jesus gives, the blind receive their sight…. The answer is telling. Yes, John I am the one who is to come. Jesus leaves the bit about the captives being set free out of the answer though, perhaps a cryptic message to John, but you will not die in vain. Neither has John experienced any tribulation that is not common to man. Our crosses look not that much unlike the tribulation the world hands to everyone, but born in faith, it is our cross, but losing your life, you will gain it. Yes we can learn from John, he knew where to find rest, to find comfort, to find strength, in the words of Jesus. And Jesus holds out the same promises for you. And though he doesn’t ignore our earthly tribulations, his fix is so much bigger than the things we imagine. He simply forgives you your sins, and gives to you eternal life. That when finally our earthly tribulations are over, we enter in to those eternal realms, because Christ was the one to come, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who came once in blessing to be sacrificed as that lamb, to die and atone for your sins, and yet is to come to judge the living and the dead, and put an end once and for all to this world of sin in which we live. Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

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