The Third Sunday in Advent (December 12, 2010)

Are We to Wait for Another?

Lessons: Isaiah 35:1-10 Psalm 146:5-10 (8) or Luke 1:46b-55 (47) James 5:7-10 St. Matthew 11:2-11

Prayer of the Day: Stir up the wills of all who look to you, Lord God, and strengthen our faith in your coming, that, transformed by grace, we may walk in your way; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Text:

11.2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

7 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? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 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.’

11 “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.”

St. Matthew 11:2-11. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?

This question, from St. John, the Baptizer, who had been imprisoned by King Herod, has been the source of much speculation over the years. Nobody is absolutely certain why John asked this question. Locked in prison, with no signs of the world-wide transformation that God’s people had expected would arrive with the Messiah, did John truly come to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah? Did he forget witnessing to Jesus while he was still in his mother’s womb? Did he forget the voice and the sign of the spirit at Jesus’ baptism? It is hard to imagine John losing hope that Jesus was the One. Some have suggested that the hard reality of his imprisonment, combined with the lack of evident change in the world, may have been enough to cause John to question whether or not he was right when he exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Another theory runs in the opposite direction. Some have speculated that John never doubted for a moment that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Even from before his own birth, John’s role was to prepare people for Jesus – to get people connected to Jesus. Perhaps the very last thing he does for his disciples (under the ruse of obtaining information for himself) is to get them connected to Jesus. Go ask him if he is the one. Go see what he is doing. Go and experience what it is like to be in his presence. Go. There is no need for you to sit here during my imprisonment. Jesus is the real deal. Go.

Isn’t it interesting? John heard (from his prison cell) what Jesus was doing. John sent his disciples to see what Jesus was doing. Finally, Jesus told John’s disciples what he was doing. And isn’t that what John’s ministry is all about? Helping others to see what Jesus is doing?

What was Jesus doing? When John’s disciples come to him with their question, Jesus describes it to them with these words:

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.

The ministry of Jesus bears the signs of the Messianic Age: bringing sight and mobility and health and hearing and life and release to those who need it. By sending his disciples into the mist of that, John was helping them take the important step from being his disciples, to becoming disciples of Jesus.

He encourages us to do the same. We may have become Christians (or members of a Christian church) for any number of reasons. Maybe we liked the youth ministries, or the music at worship, or the preaching, or the fellowship, or the chance to join with other like-minded believers in serving the world. Maybe we became involved out of habit — just because it is what we have always done.

John doesn’t much care why we might have become interested in the first place, but he wants us to stay members of the church — he wants us to stay involved with the Christian faith — because we have become connected with what Jesus is doing. He wants us to become inspired and involved in his vital ministry of new life: bringing hope and peace to any and all in this world who need it.

May this ministry touch our hearts – and as we receive it, may we become inspired to share it with others.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How did John’s imprisonment affect his understanding of who Jesus was?
  2. What was Jesus’ response to John’s question?
  3. How do you imagine John responded, when his disciples returned?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How has the Messianic touch of Jesus made a difference in my life?
  2. What hurts and needs am I aware of in this world?
  3. How can I become God’s agent of healing and hope for others?