December 15, 2019

Advent 3A

Are You the One?

GOSPEL

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.” Matthew 11:2-11
SERMON
In this morning’s Gospel, after hearing what Jesus was doing, John sends this question to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
It seems John was having some doubts about this Jesus and some serious questions about who He really is.

But in the Gospel of Luke, we are told that John the Baptist jumped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb before both he and Jesus were born when the two mothers met at that moment tradition remembers as the Visitation.

And when Jesus came to be baptized by his cousin, John, the scriptures record that the voice from heaven that affirmed, “This is my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased”, left John and all who heard it, little room for doubt.

In last week’s Gospel, John introduces Jesus by saying, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

John the Baptist seems to know perfectly well who Jesus is. So, why is he questioning?

Well, remember, John is now in prison! Can it be that his imprisonment has caused him to doubt Jesus and to have some serious questions as to whether or not he was the Messiah for whom everyone was waiting, looking and hoping?

The Messiah is not saving John from prison, and the one who is supposed to take away the sin of the world was not taking away the sin of Herod who put John in prison. Would you blame John the Baptist or anybody for doubting in such a situation?

After hearing the question, Jesus, as usual, does not answer directly but tells John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” In other words, stop being so self-absorbed with your own situation – dire as it may appear or be – and take in what is going on all around you in the lives of so many others.

Matthew is using John’s doubt as an opportunity to get his hearers, you and me included, to pay wider attention to God’s saving actions all around them.

Uncertain, scary, and what appear to be hopeless times can shake us up and create doubts in our faith and chinks in the armor of God.

Today’s Gospel is a good reflection of our spiritual journey. We can be as fired up as John the Baptist when things are going our way. In good times our commitment is very clear and true. Or when we feel particularly blessed, we are sure Jesus is our Savior.

However, when we face adversity, the possibility of disaster or disaster itself, we question if Jesus really is the Savior. We question why bad things happen, why God is not there, or does not seem to be there, for us, and doubt even if God really exists. We have this tendency to think God only exists when we are in good times.

Our preconceived idea of our Savior is of one who snatches us out of harms way. It is why we doubt and even doubt mightily when things do not go our way and especially when find our selves under threat, facing siege and in peril. We get so wrapped up in our own world and cannot hear or see God’s presence and action all around us.

Nevertheless, coming to a place of doubt may get us closer to God. John the Baptist may be in doubt and his questioning causes other to also question God. But at that point people also begin to pay new attention. They open their ears and eyes in a more intent and focused way. They discern anew and find again God’s saving grace and bring back the good news of Jesus to the doubter.

Doubting is part of our spiritual journey. But being in the place of serious doubt may itself seem unbearable. And so we need to point each other to hear and see God’s grace to keep our faith. Sometimes we do have to wait even long periods of time, in uncertain, and anxious moments before the truth comes out.

Advent is a season of waiting, expectation, and preparation for both the celebration of the Messiah who has come and for the second coming of the Savior. We are blessed that we know the certainty of the birth of Jesus. Yet, we are still waiting for His glorious return. This time of waiting can be an anxious and fearful time.

There is chaos in in the world around us. We have our fair share of chaos causing disappointment, anxiety, fear, and anger in our own country right now. Enough to cause people question the presence of God. As we listened to the party of Trump this week, defending the indefensible on behalf of those they perceive have the power to return them to office, we are left to wonder if too many will never be open to hearing the truth, or to responding to blatant evil with integrity.

Will we be able not to be distracted and absorbed by our own concerns, and anxiety, or our own pre-conception about God, but rather look for God anew, and tell people what we see and hear about His ongoing and even obvious saving presence?

As Christians, during Advent we are to slow down, reflect, and pray while waiting for the celebration of the birth of the Lord who has come and for the coming or our Lord at the end of time. It is time to reflect on what it means to be followers of Jesus and on our seeing and hearing the Lord.

We all have experienced what Jesus said:
“The blind receive their sight.
The lame walk.
The lepers are cleansed.
The deaf hear.
The dead are raised.
The poor have good news brought to them”.

As those baptized into Christ, haven’t we experienced these things? Through baptism, weren’t we who were once blind and deaf, but now able to see and hear God’s good news?

Weren’t we who were once crooked, now able to stand straight?
Weren’t we who were once unclean, now cleansed by God’s Holy Spirit?
Didn’t we die to our previous life and now live a new life?
Didn’t we, who were once poor in spirit, receive good news?

Truly, if we keep our eyes and ears open, we will hear and see plenty of God’s mighty works abounding even in bad times. And we will have many opportunities to go and tell what we hear and see.

It is once again a time for us to share the good news and our abiding hope with others especially with those who are in doubt because of a fear that seem to overwhelm peace and hope and joy.

All of that stuff that isn’t right yet in us and in those whom we love will be satisfied and healed, but most likely it won’t all happen today, tomorrow or possibly even in this life.

And in the mean time, sometimes a very mean time, we continue to come back to Jesus to be reminded of his real presence with us, and his provision to meet our immediate and ongoing needs certainly in His way if not in our way.

We are waiting in uncertainty but we are waiting in hope because God name is indeed Emmanuel – the God who with us.

In the last few weeks, we have been reading from the Prophet Isaiah. He has been bringing the good news of Emmanuel to us.

Today Isaiah says:
“They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!’ … And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

Yes, the Lord has come, the Lord is with us and the Lord will come again.

As the focus of the first week in Advent is peace and the focus of the second week in Advent is hope, so the focus of this third week in Advent is joy. What greater joy can there be than knowing God is with us both in good times and in bad? Today may this joy be in you and may your joy be complete.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
December 15, 2019