Matthew 11:2-11 (NIV)
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?”
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
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. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger 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.
Tis the season of expectation: of Jesus, of Christmas presents, of good food, of family and friends, and hopefully a few days off between the twenty-fifth and New Year. Intellectually we know that December is a calendar month like every other… but for this sense of expectations attached to it; but for this sense of endings and new beginnings and, God help us, New Year resolutions!
We are in our own various ways as pregnant as Mary was. We expect. We hope. We dream. But Advent wants to pin down the what and the why, and it uses this week’s reading, more so than the others, to do it. What do we expect? Who?
John the Baptizer had expectations. He, like his contemporaries, believed that the Messiah would be a political figure; a king as well as a priest; someone who would unite Jews and overthrow their enemies and oppressors. So I imagine it was confusing for him, as he languished in prison, at the mercy of a king’s whims, to reconcile what he expected of the Messiah with the actions of the man he believed to be the Messiah. The man he’d baptised; the one of whom he’d said, “I am not worthy to carry his sandals.”
Little wonder, then, that John began to doubt, and sent his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you he?” Perhaps the better question would have been: Are you it?
And to this question Jesus replied, not unkindly: “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, people are healed, the dead rise, the deaf hear, the poor hear the good news.” Isn’t this enough?
This is the season of expectation – but just what do we expect? More importantly, are we willing to have our expectations challenged by the Spirit, by the continuing work of God in the world?
And are we willing to carry this expectation well beyond every December, into every dark nook and cranny of the new year?
Blessings for your sermons,