Saturday, December 14, 2013

Third Sunday in Advent 2013

Third Sunday of Advent
Matthew 11.2-15
Advent is a season of preparing of getting ready for the coming of our God. John the Baptist was commissioned by God to prepare the way for Jesus. In response to that commission, John spent a lot of time in the “wilderness” dressed in camel hair and eating honey. He understood himself to be a prophet and he was seen as a prophet by Jesus. John’s message was encouragement to repentance in anticipation of the arrival of Messiah.

John’s message of repentance had touched a nerve and he and his disciples were busy baptizing people who had heard his message and responded to it. One day, Jesus stands in the baptism queue. When Jesus gets to the head of the line, John is nonplussed. Instead of baptizing Jesus, John attempts to beg off, suggesting that Jesus should baptize him. Jesus insists though, and John baptizes him “to fulfill all righteousness.” Following the baptism, the Spirit comes upon Jesus and God’s voice is heard commending Jesus. John will say, referring to Jesus that “I must decrease so He can increase.”

Scripture makes it clear that John knew who Jesus was and John’s and Jesus’ disciples were both out baptizing people in the Jordan. Then John was arrested by Herod for preaching against Herod’s relationship. Today’s text finds John in prison and feeling a bit worried.  John is human and while things were gong all right, he was bold, confronting kings and religious leaders to their faces. Now, John finds himself confined in prison.

John finds himself wondering if all this was worth it; is he in jail for making a fool of himself? Is Jesus really who he thought He was? And so he sends some of his disciples to  ask Jesus if He is for real—or was all this he has experienced and had thought just a charade?  So off go his disciples to find Jesus.

Presented with essentially, “Are you Messiah,” Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly. Rather, He sends John’s disciples back to John with a recitation of the signs Jesus has performed. This seems odd to our modern ears, but to ancient ears, steeped in oral tradition and story, this response isn’t all that odd.  Given John’s ministry prior to prison, John would have understood these signs to validate who he had thought Jesus was. While we moderns reach for a clear yes or no. Is Jesus Messiah or not?

Jesus though doesn’t satisfy our desires for clear cut clarity. He wants us to use eyes and ears open and attuned to the workings of God in the world.  Jesus sends John’s disciples away with this: ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the 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.” In doing so, Jesus rehearses passages from Isaiah much like He did in Luke 4 when He tells those at the synagogue that the prophecy was being fulfilled right in front of them. These are the works the Messiah was to perform; these are the proofs. In another place, Jesus will tell his interlocutors that if they don’t believe His words, they should believe the signs they had seen. For those who are attuned to the things of God, these signs are clear evidence of Messiah’s arrival.

Have you ever found yourself in John’s space, wondering whether all this religious stuff was the real deal? What sorts of doubts have you entertained?

As you worked through those doubts, or even if you are still working through them, what role if any might the stories of miracles play in your reflections?

Those who have ears and eyes to see are encouraged to recognize Messiah by the signs He works. But it is not just the signs; there is also an underlying desire to move toward God and His work in the world. How do you see Jesus? As an objective Messiah who is “over there,” or as God moving in the world and in your life? How do you experience Him?

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