St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon given Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Third Sunday in Advent

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
Matt. 11:2-11
3 Advent A
December 15, 2019
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" John the Baptist, who is now sitting in a cold, dark prison, chained to the wall and not knowing what his fate will be, speaks through his disciples to ask Jesus this question. "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" John seems to be having some doubts about who Jesus is. This is the same John the Baptist who baptized Jesus and saw the heavens open up and the spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Jesus, and a voice from heaven proclaimed, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased."
     "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" What has happened to John the Baptist that he has to ask such a question? This Jesus is the One for whom he was sent to prepare the way, to let people know that Jesus, the Son of God, is here. John says he is not worthy to carry the Jesus' sandals. And now he is wondering if Jesus is the one they have been waiting for.
     John the Baptist is in prison, facing an uncertain future. He questioned the legitimacy of the marriage of King Herod to his brother's wife, and has been jailed as a political enemy. Sitting alone in a cold dark prison, perhaps being starved or tortured, can put doubt in anyone's heart. Things are not going the way he thought they would.
     According to John, Jesus is supposed to change things. He is supposed to burn up all the dead wood of the world. He is supposed to come with a sharp axe and separate the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad. He is supposed to clean up the world so that people like Herod would no longer be in power and people like John would no longer be in prison. Perhaps John thought that Jesus would come and get him out of prison and save his life. But Jesus did not meet John's expectations.
     Jesus talks more about love and forgiveness than about destroying the sinners. He spends time with tax collectors and sinners and is more interested in looking for new life, new hope and new growth. He is not overthrowing the Romans or exposing the injustice in the world or setting the world right. That's what John thought the Messiah would do. But he's not. So John begins to wonder if this really is the Messiah, the Son of God, or has he made a terrible mistake that will end up costing him his life.
     I think most of us can identify with the doubt that John the Baptist is having. We have, at one time or another, looked for a Messiah that would meet OUR expectations, and would do what WE thought a Messiah should do. We want a Messiah to come right now with clear and direct answers to your questions. We want to have peace and justice in the world right now. We want to know the plan for our life, rather than waking up every morning and wondering what we are supposed to do. Or maybe we want a Messiah who will rescue the innocent and punish the guilty. We may want a Messiah to expose the bad people as they really are and give them what they deserve now.
   Or maybe we want a Messiah who will MAKE us good, make us do what is right, don't give us choices. We want a Messiah to make life easier, more comfortable, more secure.
     But we don't get any of these Messiahs. That is not who our Messiah is. Our Messiah gives us choices and helps us learn from our mistakes. Our Messiah is one who loves us all, even those who do wrong or hurt others. Our Messiah lets us live with the consequences of our actions.
     "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" John the Baptist has become disillusioned. Things have not worked out the way he thought they would. Jesus does not meet John's expectations. And he sometimes does not meet ours.
     God does not conform to our expectations. But who are we to say who God is and how God should act? This is one of the questions discussed in the Book of Job. Who are we to think that we can define God? We need to turn away from who WE think God should be in order to discover who God is.
     Whenever we pray, whenever we are in relationship with God, we discover a little more about who God is. God does not give us everything we ask for, thank goodness. How many of us have prayed for a certain outcome to a situation, perhaps a job we really want, or a relationship we want to have, and we do not get what we want. Sometimes months or years later, we are thankful that we did not get that job and we found something better, or the relationship we thought we wanted we realize would not have been good. We often ask for things that are not good for us in the long run. God does not keep us as puppets on a string, like a master marionette. God does not save us from harm, from disease and sickness, from accidents, from things that happen in this world. The more we learn about who God is NOT, the more we learn about who God IS.
     Who, then, is God? That's a question that takes a whole lifetime to answer. And we can never answer it fully. Our understanding of God when we were children is much different than our understanding now of who God is. In each encounter we have with God, a little more is revealed, a little more is learned.
     "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" That is the question that John asks his disciples to ask Jesus. But Jesus does not directly answer the question. Jesus tells John's disciples to go and tell John what they have seen and heard. 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 brough to them. That is what their Messiah has done.
     Jesus is not going to give them a yes or no answer to take back to John. He cannot give them that answer. They have to decide for themselves based on what they have experienced. They need to look at the evidence of what Jesus has done and decide for themselves.
     Each of us has to decide for ourselves whether we believe that Jesus is the Messiah. But we should not let our expectations of who we think the Messiah should be blind us to the Messiah who is standing right in front of us. We should strive to see the Messiah at work in everyday events and in the ordinariness of life and in the people who surround us every day. And we should not be afraid to keep asking "Who is God?" and keep refining our understanding of God as we experience God more and more fully.
     Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another? Look around you. The answer is right here in your midst. Amen.

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