Listen to the sermon here.
John the Baptist was a confident man. You might have picked up on that in last weeks’ readings. He had no problem wearing crazy clothes and eating bugs and spending his time shouting at people with great assurance in his words. John was a prophet and he behaved like a prophet.
John the Baptist’s job was to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus. Jesus was already alive and well, fully adult, but he had not yet begun his ministry. We don’t know exactly what John the Baptist was expecting in a Messiah, but if you’ll remember he walked around saying things like, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” One gets the sense he was expecting at least a little bit of violence! A little revolution!
In today’s reading we skip seven chapters ahead. Jesus’ ministry has begun and it is filled with a lot of . . .talking. Talking and healing. Jesus has been saying things like : So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” And “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” and “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Boooooring.
Jesus has not distributed any weapons, or talked at all about overthrowing the Romans or even the Pharisees. When Jesus sends his disciples out, it is not to recruit an army, but to cast out demons and heal the sick and raise the dead.
By this point John has been imprisoned, so he is hearing about Jesus’ ministry second hand. And John seems a little surprised about what he is hearing. John’s confidence starts to seem a little shaky for the first time. John had certain expectations about the Messiah that are not being met through Jesus’ ministry. John sends a messenger to Jesus, asking him, “Are you the one to come, or are we to wait for another?”
I love this question. It’s a really polite way to ask, “What the heck are you doing?”
John asks the question a lot of us ask Jesus at some point in our lives. “Jesus, is that you? Because you’re not really living up to my expectations.”
John the Baptist expected a warrior. What do we expect Jesus to be?
Many Christians have all kind of misconceptions about who Jesus is. They expect Jesus to be their matchmaker, their job head hunter, their addictions counselor, their financial advisor. In their minds, Jesus becomes an errand boy and when Jesus does not provide the lover or employment opportunity or willpower or windfall, people think either that Jesus has let them down, or they have some how let Jesus down and they are being punished.
But Jesus is neither a personal assistant nor the head of a political revolution. Initially, both we and John the Baptist are a bit disappointed. Our Messiah is not who we think he is. We are not being saved from what we thought our problems were.
Do you remember the line that Mr. Tumnus used to describe the Christ-figure Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia? Alsan is not a tame lion.
Jesus is not a tame Savior. Jesus is not interested in meeting our expectations. Jesus is not even interested in meeting John the Baptist’s expectations.
The expectations that we have for Jesus are pretty small. We expect him to be a little baby around December and to be resurrected in April. We expect him to comfort us when we are grieving. We expect to feel his presence in church, but maybe not think about him too much the rest of the week. And, occasionally, we expect Jesus to act like our personal assistant.
And the expectations John the Baptist had may not have felt small to him, after all—a revolution is a pretty big dream—but compared to what Jesus had in mind, even John the Baptist’s expectations were small.
Jesus had a much bigger revolution planned than John the Baptist could imagine. Rather than a political revolution, Jesus was conducting a spiritual revolution.
When John sent his messengers to ask Jesus that slightly passive-aggressive question, “Are you the one to come or are we to wait for another?” Jesus replied 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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus gently points John in a new direction. Instead of saying, “Gee, John, not very loyal, are we?”, Jesus points to the amazing things he has been doing as signs of what kind of Messiah he is. He reorients John’s understanding of Messiah from warrior to healer and life-giver.
As we pray and mature in our faith, Jesus reorients our understanding, too. We learn that God does not exist in order to make us happy, but that God exists because God exists. And God created us to be in relationship with him
Whether we are aware of it or not, our lives are made up of much more than our every day routines. We are people created by God, who are actively loved by God. For generations human beings tried to love God back, but we always screwed up. We ended up worshiping false idols, or got caught up in political or financial power. We could not sustain a relationship with God.
And that’s where Jesus comes in. God became human so he could show us that no matter what we do—even if we murder this enfleshed God—we cannot stop God from wanting a relationship with us. God is stronger and more loving than our worst impulses. Jesus spent his time healing and exorcising demons and teaching about new ways of living so that we could know this loving God more fully.
Being loved by God is not about having a warm and fuzzy relationship in which God just tells us how fantastic we are all the time and goes out and gets us lattes. Being loved by God means we become a worker for the Kingdom of God—we become people who bring love and justice and mercy to this planet. The more we pray and listen for God’s voice in our lives, the more we will hear about who we are and what we are called to do.
We may have a specific vision of who we are, but God will always expand that—our visions are almost invariably too narrow for what God can do through us. You can do more good and affect more people that you can even imagine.
This Advent we’re invited to imagine—Imagine a God that created human beings out of love, and pursued us for thousands of years, even to the point of becoming human, so we could hear and touch and understand him in a new way. Imagine a God who wants a relationship with us even after we reject his message and hang him on a cross.
Imagine a God who created you, who knows you, even all your flaws and poor choices, and who loves you anyway. Imagine a God who created you to really make a difference in the world around you. Imagine a God who created you to be part of Christ’s very body, enacting God’s love in the world.
This is the God that we celebrate and for whom we keep watch this Advent. That’s the God that was born as a little baby, two thousand years ago. That’s the God whose Spirit moves in this place and in our lives.
Thanks be to God.