When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “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 blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
It does not take long for our circumstances to change. One minute we can feel as though we are at the top of the world. Being part of some amazing things that we think are going to make difference in our community or even globally. The next minute we are caught off guard and are in a place that is unfamiliar and stirs within us questions that we did not even know exists.
That question for John the Baptist is, “Are you the one to come, or are we to wait for another?” Let’s hear that one more time, “Are you the one to come, or are we to wait for another?” Perhaps, we are left asking this same question ourselves at times, if not variations of it. Questioning who Christ and God are and our role in this great mystery.
What is it within John that stirs this question? Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, our lesson from last week, John is confident in his preparation for the one that is to come after him. The one that will baptize in the Holy Spirit. Jesus walks onto the scene at this time, and through his baptism, he knows that he is the one. However, for some reason, John seems to be second guessing himself. His expectations of the Messiah, are not yet being fulfilled.
While Jesus should be bringing about the Kingdom of God, why is John anxiously waiting in his prison cell? Everything should be made right with the coming of Jesus into the world and yet brokenness seems to persist. It is ancient Jewish thought that when the Messiah comes everything is going to be made right. Right at that moment. Not later, but now. However, we have been told to wait. Advent is a season of waiting. And preparing. In our culture when we want instant gratification, perhaps this is when we find ourselves asking the same question that John boldly has brought to Jesus. We want to be able to understand in the midst of the brokenness and hurting, and yet we are left with more questions.
These questions become even harder for us during the holidays. The holidays are a time when many people are celebrating and having a joyous time with friends and families. There are parties everywhere during this season. The annual office party brings co-workers together for a time to relax and not think about the daily tasks of careers. Families gather to share presents and be with one another. The streets are decorated with lights and tinseled ornaments. Houses around town gleam with lights stating that there is something different about this time of year.
And yet, some are shut behind closed doors, drawn curtains and blinds blocking out the very joy that others exude this season. For some, the holidays bring more dread than joy. For them, they can find it easier to relate with John in the cell, then those rejoicing and celebrating. In recent years, some churches are even having “Blue Christmas” services. These services get their name from the feeling some are left with during this time of year and usually occur on December 21, the day of the year with the least amount of daylight.
In John’s question, he is looking for an answer and reassurance that what he proclaimed was not for naught. Did he truly fulfill the calling that God had laid upon his heart? Did he prepare the way? Is God with him, in his blues?
In our own doubts and blues, don’t we sometimes ask ourselves the same things? Did I make the right decision? Did I share the love of God as it was shared with me? While we may not be in prison as John is, we still hold ourselves captive and in bondage to our sins. We feel tied-up and helpless when it comes to death and disease.
It is in Jesus’ words that we are directed to the grace of God that is all around us. He tells John’s disciples to go back and tell John what they hear and see. The blind see! The lame walk! The lepers are cleansed! The deaf hear! The dead are raised! The poor receive good news!
What do you hear and see as you are walking about this creation that God has given to you? Where do you see Jesus at work in the lives of all people?
I have seen Jesus abundantly at work in the midst of our community these past few months! While we may not have made the blind see or the lame walk, we have still played a role in the kingdom of God. We have given the homeless a roof over their heads and soup to warm their tired, achy bodies. We have fed the hungry and starving, not just in the greater Blue Water Area, also around the world. We have made it possible for children in Detroit to have a great Christmas by filling these bags. This coming Saturday Trinity will host Second Hand Christmas, and parents will be able to get gifts for their children that they would not have been able to get before. This is what I have heard and seen just in the past few months!
What have you heard? What have you seen? There are signs all around us that God is with us, Emmanuel.
It is in these signs, the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, that Jesus is brought into our midst to share with those we serve. In this we know that Jesus has come, and will come again!