"What Did You Go to See?"
15 December, 2013 - Advent 3A
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & Zion West Walworth United Methodist Churches
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “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.”
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Prison will do that to a person.
Being locked up and separated from family and friends
does cause one to loose self-confidence
especially as the crisis of incarceration moves on to future uncertainty.
We see a very different John the Baptist this morning
compared to last Sunday
when he was in the wilderness,
full of spit and vinegar,
preaching preparation and baptizing the penitent.
Today, months later
we find John locked up by Herod Antipas,
son of Herod the Great,
a king dressed in soft robes
whose minted coins features blowing reeds.
John is removed from the scene,
dependent on second and third-hand reports,
idle with a lot of time on his hands
where he is second guessing his role in the developing kingdom.
Prison will do that to a person.
Jesus wasn't living up to John's expectations.
For that matter, Jesus wasn't living up to the world's expectations either.
Jesus didn't take on the roll
of a prophet proclaiming judgment to authorities.
That's what prophets were supposed to do.
Jesus proclaimed a message
of promise and salvation to the masses.
Jesus didn't look like a prophet: dressed in sack cloth, smeared with ashes, living in the wild.
That's what prophets were supposed to do.
Jesus ate and drank with sinners and tax collectors.
Jesus didn't assume the mantle of Davidic warrior king.
That's what was expected of an anticipated Messiah.
Jesus taught non-violence,
turn the other cheek,
and self-sacrificial love.
John sat in prison awaiting his fate
Wondering if his life had made a difference
If it was all wasted on a fraud.
Jesus was forging a new trail;
moving in an unanticipated direction.
Jesus answered the question,
“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.”
Miracles, yes, I suppose God's Messiah could do anything,
but not one Prophet of Old spoke about restoring sight to the blind.
No one spoke about resurrection.
What people were experiencing was God doing something new.
God was creating something new
With his Son, Jesus.
Jesus wasn't behaving as John anticipated.
At every level
Jesus wasn't living up to the expectations of John the Baptist.
John had correctly understood his roll to prepare the way of the Lord
but now with hindsight we can see
John wasn't aware of what God was doing.
He couldn't see that God was moving in a new direction.
When John the Baptist speaks this morning
He is not so certain Jesus is the one.
don't we also find times of shaken confidence?
Don’t we second guess
that certainty we were so quick to proclaim in our youth?
Don't we set up expectations for God's behavior
only to lose confidence when God doesn't apparently respond
the way we think God should respond?
Bad things happen to good people.
We expect God should prevent bad things from happening.
When they do, it feels like God has failed us.
We expect Jesus to return at any moment.
It feels like every Advent is a time to freshen our expectation of Jesus' imminent return.
Then Christmas after Christmas rolls around,
yes, the carols have been nice, the decorations are beautiful, and the children did a great job playing Mary, Joseph, and Shepherds,
but we wonder, is anything changed?
Christmas begins to feel like ground hog day,
Replayed over and over again,
Complete with the failure to advance.
I don't see Jesus.
It feels like the same old, same old:
make the promise, wait with anticipation,
… and just keep on waiting.
It can feel like God has failed us.
Our time is not God's time;
Our ways are not God's ways.
Quite frankly the only expectations we should be setting
are expectations for ourselves.
We find ourselves disappointed when we make expectations for others
only to have them fail us.
And we find ourselves disappointed when we set expectation for God
only to not have it work out as we expect.
Let God be God.
We can only change our expectations for ourselves.
Where, then, are we to begin?
Of course, Jesus provides the clue right from the Gospel.
Jesus asks the crowd,
"What then did you go out to see?"
A prophet? … yes, of course,
That's what drew the crowds and attracted them to Jesus.
Now, he tells them
What you see standing before you is
"… more than a prophet."
Yes, John was the prophet who prepared the way of the Lord.
John prepared the way for the coming of Jesus.
But because John is of this world
John cannot comprehend
or be compared
to the kingdom status of Jesus,
who is not the least,
but the greatest
in the Kingdom of God.
Like John, our expectations can and should be changed.
The world tells us how to behave during Advent and the holiday season,
leaving us feeling empty and disappointed.
Drawing from Jesus' response
The first change in our expectations
is to recognize the fact
- and to become comfortable with the reality -
that we don't know what we don't know.
God is not fully revealed;
and nearly all remains
mysterious and unknown.
Logic tells us
If I can reason it through
I can control it.
But knowing God completely is not possible,
therefore, we can't be in control of our world or our eventual outcome.
Our expectations can be changed from
"I'm the master of my universe,"
"God is the master of my universe."
In this tug-of-war, give and take, battle over the will
that we have with God,
dear sisters and brothers,
drop the expectation that our ego will win,
that we can be in control.
Stop trying to figure God out.
Stop attempting to walk away just because you can't
or that you're unwilling
to live with Divine inconsistencies.
Give control of your life over to God.
Surrender the will;
submit to God's will.
Stop talking at God
and do more listening to God
and paying more attention to what He has to say.
The second adjustment in our expectations
that is poignantly identified by Jesus
is the fact that
the Kingdom is not yet arrived.
It is emerging.
It was emerging in the time and circumstances of John the Baptist.
And it continues to emerge in our world today.
We have vitally important rolls to play in the emerging kingdom of God.
We are being swept up in it.
But it is not yet complete.
So keep watching.
Do not let your attention be distracted.
Do not place your hope in others.
When we surrender the will to God
it means that we actively watch and wait.
We actively respond when God calls upon us to act.
We allow ourselves to be the eyes and hands of God
fulfilling God's will
being the change
that transforms this world
into the kingdom of God.
don't we find ourselves wondering,
"Is this the year?"
"Is this the time when Christ will come again?"
sometimes even as he stands before us
and we are in his midst.
The message we hear in today's Gospel is
let it be,
give it up,
hand it over to God,
and, yes, Christ will come
in God's time.