(Ps.146 or) Magnificat
Advent 3A RCL
Bapt. HE 2D
ARE YOU THE ONE WHO IS COMING?
Credits: Pulpit Monthly 12/80 pp.5-7; Fuller ad loc.
"Are you the one who is coming, or should we look for another?" So said the messengers of John the Baptist as they questioned Jesus.
I. Now John was in prison. He had been arrested because he spoke the truth and made his King uncomfortable publicly. Without fear and without mincing words, he had pointed the finger of judgement at King Herod Antipas, who had married his brother Philip's widow - this being against God's Law as understood at the time. And now John was in prison. And he was having some doubts about Jesus. And he sent messengers to Jesus to ask Him directly: "Are you the one who is coming, or should we look for someone else?"
None of us knows how we would react under great stress. Maybe sometimes we wonder if our faith would stand up to persecution, or being in prison, or being in great pain or serious illness. Maybe we think of this when we hear stories - old stories or new stories of people who have come through such circumstances with their faith still strong and victorious. But how would WE get on - you or I? It is not a very comforting question,
A) Let's go back to John the Baptist for a minute. John was in prison. He had shown great courage and single-mindedness in his preaching. He had seen himself as the fore-runner of the Messiah, and he he had believed that Jesus was that Messiah. But now he began to have his doubts. These doubts may in part have arisen because of the hardships of life in prison. But these doubts may have been due to the fact that Jesus had not brought in the Kingdom in the way that John had expected. And so John was having second thoughts. Jesus had turned out to be a different kind of Messiah from what John had expected - one who was meek and lowly in heart, rather than the kind that John had preached about, who would thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor with the winnowing fires of judgment. So John questions: "Are you the one who is coming, or should we look for another?"
B) You could call John a second-stage believer. As such, John speaks to many of us. Some of us were once sure about Christ, but now we are doubtful, because of things around us, and because of things within us. We are not physically in prison, in jail, but in a sense you could say that we are in prison, our life constricted and hemmed in by circumstances. Around us are so many things that seem to deny the possibility of a loving God: there is the suffering of the whole creation, both animal and human - much of it so pointless, and so undeserved. And that makes us wonder about God's love - things like floods, earthquakes, starvation, senseless shootings every week, everywhere. All these make us wonder about God's love, and we feel imprisoned, hemmed in. Or there is the decline of the Churches and the things for which the Churches stand. Convinced and practicing Christians are increasingly hard to find. And that makes us feel imprisoned. It makes us wonder about God. And, where is God in the transition that this parish is in?
And then there are things within us that make us doubt - and these may be difficult for some of us to identify for ourselves - but things like our state of health, or the evidence of growing old, or our disposition, our angry feelings - the physical and the chemical and the emotional things that make us up, and put us in prison one way or another, and cause us to doubt, and to wonder if God is any longer there in our life, or in the life of the world.
Faith has its ebb tide as well as its flow, and we are very likely to think that when the tide has ebbed - it has gone out for ever. And so we ask about Jesus, or about God, "Are you the One Who is coming, or should we look for someone else, somewhere else?"
II. John's question represents the way that we often react. So the message that was taken back to John is a message for ourselves.
A) It was as if Jesus were saying, "John, are you looking in the wrong places?" John was looking for an outward, visible kingdom that would make Israel independent and a military conqueror of others. Prophets had been looking for that for generations. Jesus pointed in different directions. "Go and tell John what you see," He said, as He pointed to the deaf hearing, the blind seeing, and the lame walking. Those things, those happenings, He said - those are evidence of the Kingdom.
B) Now, do you and I miss the presence of Christ because we are looking for Him in the wrong places? That is, do we look for Him in the past rather than in the present - do we look for Him in ways that we have always know Him in the past, rather than in ways that we might know Him now? Because we believed in Him so strongly in the past when things went the way that we wanted, now do we find it hard to believe when things are not going the way we have been used to, or the way that we went? We have to learn to love God for Himself, and not just for the gifts that He gives us.
III. So where is the right place to look? Surely, in the place where John was told to took. We will find Christ wherever men and women and children are being restored to wholeness, where they are being helped towards that abundant living which is God's will for them. We will find Christ wherever people are seeing with new eyes of faith or listening with new ears of hope, or walking with new ways of love. All of this is happening in countless ways, to countless people all over the world. Sometimes it includes physical healing, but not always. Quite often a person crippled in spirit, put into prison by some illness or by other events in their life, is given new life, is set free by finding a purpose in the events of their life as it actually is. Quite simply, such a person may decide in their life to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I repeat that, for it has helped me a lot: a person may decide in their life, to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem. This is happening all the time. Some of it is happening in the Churches - thank God. Some of it is happening outside the Churches, and thank God for that too. If you really understand what Christ came to do, you will not fail to recognise Him at work, when when people become part of the solution instead of part of the problem, in themselves or in the Church or in the world.
Advent is the season when we are callee to look for Jesus more closely, in new ways, and to see Him where He is, and has been all along.
The child being baptized today into Christ is being given the tools to become, herself, a part of the solution to the problems of life, at any and every level.