12/11/2016 Third Sunday of Advent The text is: Matthew 11:2-11.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In his book Horns and Halos, Dr. J. Wallace Hamilton tells about one of the weirdest auction sales in history, and it was held in Washington, D.C., in 1926, where 150,000 patented models of old inventions were declared obsolete and placed on the auction block for public auction. Prospective buyers and on-lookers chuckled as item after item was put up for bid; such as a “bed-bug buster” or an “illuminated cat” that was designed to scare away mice. Then there was a device to prevent snoring. It consisted of a trumpet that reached from the mouth to the ear; and was designed to awaken the snorer and not the neighbors. And then there was a very practical invention: the adjustable pulpit that could be raised or lowered according to the height of the preacher.
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 represent a mountain of disappointments.
Broken dreams and disappointments – these may not seem like the most appropriate things to talk about this close to Christmas. After all, this is the season to be jolly. But if we scratch the surface, we find that this time of year is not jolly for everybody. For those who have lost loved ones this is the loneliest time of the year. For those who are struggling financially in a world that glorifies materialism, this may be the most disappointing of seasons. Even our gospel for today hints of and disillusionment, as John the Baptist, one of the first proclaiming the coming of Christ, asks of Jesus, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Now, much had happened to John since we last saw him preaching and baptizing people in the wilderness. King Herod had thrown him into prison. Now, 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 that’s why he 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. He was filled with hope and dreams about what that would mean, but Jesus was no warrior king. Jesus was not born to royalty, but to a peasant woman. He functioned not as a military ruler, but as a servant. He came not to judge, but as a forgiving redeemer. He did not bring heavenly condemnation; he brought divine love. He did not associate with the religious establishment, but he went from village to village associating with the rubbish heap of humanity.
Jesus spent time and energy with the least and the lost. He was most concerned with the powerless: the blind and the lame, the lepers and the deaf, and the poor and the out-cast. And Jesus dared to teach that the weak occupied the most important place in the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ focus on healing, his preference for teaching in the small towns and back roads of Galilee—his Sabbath infringements, his associations with sinners and tax collectors, his gossiped gluttony and drinking with ne’er-do-wells—all may have made his messianic identity suspect in the eyes of John. So in the face of certain death John needed to know if he was right or wrong about Jesus – had the pain and effort, and the long wait been worth it?
It seems that whenever we impose our expectations on anything – be it the celebration of Christmas or the works of God – we are left disappointed. It is only when we listen to the words of Jesus as he answers John’s question, that we find the promise and the hope of God’s Messiah.
For Jesus did not come to restore political power. He came with the power of God to mend broken lives – “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.” These are words of promise, words that hold the past and the future together in hope for all to hear. There will be no other, for in Jesus, sins are forgiven, creation is restored, and the gates of heaven are opened.
But if we look at Jesus as someone who is disillusioned and depressed, we will be disappointed, as was the woman in Susan Andrews’ story who wanted a good world, a peaceful world. She wanted to be a good person. The newspaper and television showed her how far we are from such a reality. So she decided to go shopping. She went to the mall and wandered into a new store – where the person behind the counter looked strangely like Jesus. Gathering up her courage she went up to the counter and asked, “Are you Jesus?” “Well, yes, I am,” the man answered. “Do you work here?” “Actually,” Jesus responded, “I own the store. You are free to wander up and down the aisles, see what it is I sell, and then make a list of what you want. When you are finished, come back here, and we’ll see what we can do for you.”
So the woman did just that. And what she saw thrilled her. There was peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, harmony, clean air. She wrote furiously and finally approached the counter, handing a long list to Jesus. He skimmed the paper, and then smiling at her said, “No problem.” Reaching under the counter, he grabbed some packets and laid them out on the counter. Confused, she asked, “What are these?” Jesus replied: “These are seed packets. You see, this is a catalog store.” Surprised the woman blurted out, “You mean I don’t get the finished product?” “No,” Jesus gently responded. “This is a place of dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds. Then you plant the seeds. You go home and nurture them and help them to grow and someone else reaps the benefits.” “Oh,” she said, deeply disappointed in Jesus. Then she turned around and left the store without buying anything.
Of course, this is a story (adapted by Susan Andrews, as told in Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life), but it is one to remember this Christmas season. For Jesus did not come to meet our expectations. Jesus is no genie in a magic lamp. Jesus came to bestow God’s grace upon us, to mend the broken spirit, and to give us the tools for faithful living. May we rejoice in this servant king who will not disappoint those looking for God’s salvation – the one who gave his life for us all. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.