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Sermons

“The One”

December 11, 2022 Third Sunday of Advent The text is Matthew 11:2-11a.  

-oOo-

While John (the Baptist) was in prison he heard about what the Anointed had been doing and he sent his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?”

And so Jesus answered them, “Go report to John what you have heard and seen:

The blind see again and the lame walk; lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them.

Congratulations to those who don’t take offense at me.”

After (john’s disciples) had departed, Jesus began to talk about John to the crowds: “What did you go out to the wilderness to gawk at? A reed shaking in the wind? What did you really go out to see? A man dressed in fancy (clothes)?  But wait! Those who wear fancy (clothes) are found in regal quarters. Come on, what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, that’s what you went out to see, yet someone more than a prophet.

This is the one about whom it was written:

Here is my messenger, whom I send on ahead of you to prepare your way before you.

I swear to you, among those born of women no one has arisen who is greater than John the Baptist.

-oOo-

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

This morning’s gospel reading begins by telling us that John the Baptist is in prison; and Matthew doesn’t let us know the reason for John’s imprisonment until a chapter or two later.  Perhaps we should consider the reason for this before we go on.  Well, it seems that Herod Antipas, who was the Jewish authority serving the Romans when John the Baptizer was in the wilderness, didn’t have a real problem with John; that is, until John’s preaching began to hit a bit closer to home.

You see, John had made it clear that Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife was against the Law of the Torah.  And Herod’s wife was especially upset with John the Baptist’s vocal denunciation of her marriage to Herod.  And you will recall that this conflict eventually caused John to lose his head.  But prior to this, Herod had John thrown into jail, and that is where we encounter him this morning.

John the Baptizer plays a pivotal role in Jesus’ ministry; this morning Jesus himself proclaims John’s greatness and confirms that he is the messenger whom God has sent ahead to prepare for Jesus’ coming as the Messiah.  According to gospel-writer John, John the Baptist (the one we read about this morning) announced that Jesus was the “Lamb of God, who has come to take away the sin of the world”.  And, earlier in Matthew, in chapter 3, John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River, albeit with some reservation.  So, we would likely be correct if we were to assume that John the Baptist was pretty sure that Jesus was the Christ, the Anointed One, the Lamb of God, the Messiah, the One who was sent by God to free the people of Israel.

Yet this morning, poor John, languishing in prison, seems to be having second thoughts.  And the question that he asks his disciples to put to Jesus, “are you the one?”; well, that seems somewhat incompatible with what John has been proclaiming since we first met him in the wilderness; in his camel-hair coat and his wild honey and locusts diet.  What might have been the cause for this rather unexpected wavering of his previous conviction that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the long-awaited Messiah?  It may have been that he found himself confined in a prison cell, and who could blame him for experiencing a loss of faith in that circumstance?  But more likely, his questioning of whether Jesus really was the prophesied “one who is to come”, was simply because Jesus didn’t behave like the Messiah that the Hebrew people had been promised.

Was Jesus simply not the embodiment of what the Jewish people expected, or did John and just about everybody else misunderstand how the Messiah that God promised was going to free God’s people?  Understandably, John asked, “are you the one, or should we wait for another?”, for Jesus didn’t fit the mold.

Even though John the Baptist was Jesus’ first and most ardent cheerleader, and we would prefer that he remained that way, we shouldn’t be too critical of his faltering conviction that Jesus was the prophesied Son of God.  After all, the promised Messiah was expected to be a mighty warrior, who would lead a great army to defeat the enemies of the Hebrew people.  Nothing could be further from the way Jesus’ ministry diverged from this accepted belief.  Rather than fighting to secure a military victory over Israel’s Roman occupiers, Jesus instead foretold the coming of a kingdom where war, oppression, poverty, and hatred would no longer have power over God’s people.  And, this, not through militaristic battle, but by the opening up of God’s people to the truth of the nature of the Christ, this Jesus whom John once proclaimed as the “Lamb of God”.  The Messiah came as the “lamb”, not the “lion” who was prophesied to free the people by force, by the spilling of the blood of Israel’s enemies.  But the “lamb” who was to secure salvation through the shedding of his own blood.

Jesus certainly didn’t meet the expectations of John, and for that matter, a great many of the other characters in Scripture also didn’t have a clear understanding of the nature of Christ.  Jesus’ neighbors in his hometown viewed him simply as “the carpenter’s son”.  Peter, who eventually figured it out, questioned Jesus’ actions at every turn.  Mary Magdalene thought the risen Jesus was the gardener when she went to the tomb after the crucifixion.  And Herod also had the wrong guy; he thought that Jesus was John the Baptist, who must have risen after Herod had him beheaded.  Are you the one, or should we wait for another?”, John asks Jesus from his prison cell.  Rather than answer the question directly, Jesus offers examples of what he has done; “the blind see again and the lame walk; lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them.”  While these are not the works of a holy warrior, come to fight to free a people from oppression, they certainly demonstrate the miraculous deeds that could only be performed by the Son of God.  It seems that the people did, in fact have their Messiah, although not the one they expected.  The world was going to be made free, just not in the way they anticipated.

Jesus the Messiah has come to usher in the new kingdom, one of the forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love of God.  This kingdom has not yet been fully realized, and will not be until Christ’s Second Coming, when he will return as the conquering king.  Christ’s second advent, when all the world will be free and all things will be under subjugation to God.  Until then, we live in the “not yet” of God’s kingdom, even though the “already here” has begun to break into the world.  And, as we wait for the fulfilment of the kingdom, we must ask ourselves if we have the Messiah that we want.  Do we rejoice when Jesus loves those we wouldn’t ordinarily associate with?  Are we thankful when we realize that he shows mercy to the ones on the other side of our politics?  Do we praise Christ for his mercy toward those who have harmed us?

And if the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then we haven’t received the Messiah we wanted either.  Yet, he is the One, and we do not have to wait for another.  For the promised forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love of God are intended for everyone, whether we feel they are worthy or not.  When Jesus didn’t meet John the Baptist’s expectations, John questioned Jesus, rather than examining his own concept of how the Messiah would come to free the people.  We must be extra careful that we don’t fall into a similar trap; as we await the arrival of Jesus on Christmas, it’s imperative that we don’t try to make him fit our expectation of how he should act, especially toward those with whom we disagree.

Because Jesus will bestow forgiveness, grace, mercy, and the love of God on all people.  We need to change our expectations of Jesus; we must change the way we live to more align with the already here of the kingdom.  Perhaps we should rejoice when Jesus loves those we wouldn’t ordinarily associate with. We ought to be thankful when we realize that he shows mercy to the ones on the other side of our politics.  We become more Christ-like when we praise Jesus for his mercy toward those who have harmed us.  Let’s face it, if we find this difficult to do, well, then we’re in good company, for John  the Baptist also struggled with his perception of what the One to come was to be like.  But the Jesus that we have is the One we need!

The sooner we embrace this notion, the quicker the “not yet” of the kingdom of God will happen.  And, the coming of the kingdom starts anew again on Christmas, when we await the birth of the One who is to come.  Let’s do our part by recognizing Jesus Christ as the Savior who is already here; and by pleading for his blessing on all God’s children.  We don’t have to wait for another!  

God is good, all the time!  All the time, God is good!

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