The Pas Advent 3
11 December 2016
Psalm 146:4-6 pg 905
God for whom we watch and wait, you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son: give us courage to speak the truth, to hunger for justice, and to suffer for the cause of right, with Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jesus intentionally brings our attention to John the Baptist, today.
Today, some of John’s disciples have come to Jesus with a question, a question prompted by John’s own self-doubts, and wondering about Jesus identity, wondering “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Mt 11:3b)
In the midst of John’s doubts, we are able to look at John the Baptist, in some detail, as well as the effect he has had on the community around him, then, and the effect he has on us, still today.
Last week we heard: “3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”” (Mt 3:3-12)
Not only was he a completely unsavoury individual to look at, his message was a slap in the face, it was caustic to those who thought themselves to be secure.
And John’s message was one of repentance fitting with the arrival of the Messiah, with God’s chosen who will bring us all into the presence of God.
After Jesus came on the scene, John turned his focus from Pharisees and Sadducees to local royalty, after all the unspoken scandal of the day was Herod and his sister in law, Herodias. But John spoke about it, loudly, at the foot of Herods’ walls, causing Herod to imprison him for his words.
In jail, John begins to listen to what is happening in the outside world, he begins to ponder the decisions made in his life, he begins to wonder if Jesus is who John declared him to be. After all there has been no evidence of a winnowing fork and holy fire.
Yet, Jesus “calls him a Messenger, God’s messenger, the one who will go ‘ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has
not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Jesus praises John to those who are around him. John has done everything God has asked of him, what God has asked of all prophets, he has pointed the people to the light.
John has pointed to the will of God for all people who love God and whom God loves.
John has proclaimed the words God has given him to say, and he has proclaimed them with conviction and has faithfully pointed the way to the Messiah, to Jesus.
John has given his whole life to the proclamation of the coming of the Messiah, offering a baptism of repentance, of forgiveness of sins to all who came to him, in the wilderness, yes, even the Pharisees and Sadducees would not be turned away should they choose to repent and be baptized, although he gave them the rough side of his tongue when he had the chance.
And Jesus gives John the highest praise possible. He says: “7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” (Mt 11:7-9)
Yet, Jesus tells us that John isn’t counted as “great” in the Kingdom of heaven. He says: “Whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Mt 11:11b)
John did all God asked of him, yet, it sounds like Jesus encourages us to do more, to be more.
John was dedicated to God from his birth, from before his conception, yet, the least in the kingdom of heaven is counted as greater than John.
The question, then, is what does God want from us? What does God want with us?
Could Jesus be encouraging us to follow in John’s footsteps, like a competition, a check list that will lead to ‘greatness’ in the kingdom of heaven?
Yet, we know that we are assured of salvation by Jesus actions on our behalf on the cross.
It seems like we’re facing mixed messages, in these words from our Lord and Saviour. But what if we look more closely at what Jesus tells us that the first will be last and the greatest will be least of all.
The fact that John’s life was his service to God. Yet, God always turns our perceptions on their ear, so, we need to take a closer look at how John confronted not only the perceptions of those who mistook him for the Messiah, but also his question to Jesus, today.
“2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” (Mt 11:2-3)
After a lifetime in God’s service, proclaiming the coming of the Messiah who will bring God’s wrath on the people to separate us from the power of our sins, separating us from the shells with which we surround our lives, shells that keep out the love of God as well as the hurts of the world.
After a lifetime of proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, meeting him in the depths of the Jordan River as Jesus comes to receive the baptism of repentance, he wonders, he has doubts that Jesus is ‘the one’, is the Messiah, is the one whom he expected to see bring the flame of God’s wrath on all of God’s misbehaving creation.
After a lifetime in God’s service, John begins to doubt, not God, but himself.
Jesus message to John is the witness of John’s disciples that the lame are able to walk, the blind to see, and the mute to proclaim God’s praises. That God’s love is being made manifest amongst those who society has cast aside, but whom God has touched with God’s love.
I wonder if this is why we listen to Christmas carols in Advent? In order to allay our fears our doubts that Christ will come again, that the babe will be born in Bethlehem for the salvation of the world?
To ease our hearts as we seek to find Christ in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a season that is to be spent in preparation of the arrival of God made manifest and dwelling amongst us?
We see the groundwork that John laid to come to fruit, although the fruit may look different than John had conceptualized in his life and ministry.
Rather than God’s wrath we see God’s love epitomized in Jesus life and ministry. We see that Jesus calls us to emulate John’s love and devotion to God, to proclaim God’s love for all of creation, for all of us, for those who are not yet acquainted with the love of God because there are still shells around their lives and hearts to keep out the hurts of the world.
What we see is John’s doubts, at the end of his life, of his ministry at whether he correctly heralded the Messiah, or if it was another who is to be expected.
Facebook has had a post, lately, pointing out that doubt isn’t a lack of faith, rather doubt is an aspect of faith.
Today we see John’s doubts about the truth of his own eyes because he sees God’s love enacted on the world instead of the wrath of God that he had warned people to expect.
Today, because God turns our expectations on their ear, we too are able to have doubts. We too are able to ask, to seek, to find Christ in the day to day events of today, and tomorrow, as well.
We too, are able to turn our lives and hearts to the expectation that God is made manifest amongst us, and that we are loved by the one who loves us unconditionally.