Year A Advent 3 Matthew 11B
Are You the One Who Is to Come?
Needless to say, this auction of old patent models was worth at least 150,000 laughs; but if we would look into this situation a little deeper, we would discover that these 150,000 old patent models also represent 150,000 broken dreams. They represented a mountain of disappointments.
It may seem inappropriate to talk about broken dreams and disappointments this close to Christmas. After all, this is the season to be jolly. But it's not jolly for everybody, is it? For those who have lost loved ones this is the loneliest time of the year. And in a world that glorifies materialism, those who are struggling financially may find it to be most disappointing.
Our friend John the Baptist knew about disappointment. John is in prison now and he's looking for a sign - a sign that the long-awaited Messiah has really arrived. That's ironic, don't you think? John the Baptist is the one who first proclaimed his coming. But much has happened to John since we last saw him preaching and baptizing people in the wilderness, and now his heart is cast down.
You'll remember John's message was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This message burned in John's soul. John wasn't afraid to proclaim his message to religious leaders and royalty alike. He wasn't even afraid to proclaim it to King Herod himself. That was why he was in jail.
This was not the King Herod who was the ruler at the time of the birth of Jesus; this was his son, Herod Antipas, who turned out to be worse than his father. Herod Antipas seduced and later married his brother's wife, but first he killed his brother. The nation was in shock. John the Baptist condemned the king's behavior and was placed in prison. While in prison John realized that his career as a prophet would soon be ended. His life would be over as well.
There was one thing that John wanted to know before he died. John wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt if Jesus was really the Messiah. Can you blame him? He had given everything he had - including, in a matter of days, his very life. He wanted to know, has it all been in vain? Is it all an illusion - a dream? In the wilderness John had believed Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, but in the face of certain death he has some doubts. He wanted to know for sure. So he sent some of his followers to find Jesus and ask him, "Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?"
You see, John the Baptist found himself in a disappointing and disheartening predicament. Things were not working out like he had expected. Sometimes that happens. Disappointment.
Particularly at Christmas. This is not an easy time of year. A few years back there was a haunting country song that went like this, "If we make it through December...." Some of you know the meaning of those words. "If we make it through December...." It was December for John the Baptist. He was hurting in Herod's prison. He was hurting physically and he was hurting emotionally. He was gripped with disappointment.
- He Had Different Expectations of What a Messiah Would Do.
- He Was Looking for All the Wrong Signs.
- He Didn't Give God Time.
Time to Unpack
Advent is an intentional season of "preparedness." We think of Advent as a "journey," to use Oprah Winfrey's favorite word. We think of Advent as a progressive path we take in order to arrive at a destination — the sleepy village of Bethlehem.
Sounds like life as usual. Sounds like something we can get our heads and hands and hearts around. Sounds like something we can get down and get done.
But wait a minute! Advent is not our journey. We are NOT in charge. Advent is not a journey we make, a journey we prepare for, a road that we navigate.
No, Advent is the journey GOD makes. Advent isn't a trip we prepare to go on. Advent is the time we prepare for God's trip to us. Advent is the time we ready ourselves to RECEIVE God. The God who, against all reason and for our redemption, is making a journey TOWARDS us.
This week's gospel text reminds us just how long God had been preparing for this journey. Before the baby Jesus was even born, God had arranged for the ideal advance man, the perfect prophet to be conceived and born and nurtured to adulthood. Generations before John the Baptist there were other prophets whom God provided with selected slices of insight, like a freeze-framed GPS map. Moses and Isaiah, Malachi and Daniel: all provided peeks at the pathway God was paving...