“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God”
“Are you the one or are we to wait for another?”
In last week’s Gospel John was so confident - so assured. He was preaching and baptizing and calling for people to Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near. And he proclaimed that Jesus was the ONE.
John has gone from a fiery preacher telling people to REPENT to an unsure, questioning, imprisoned man looking for a reason to hope. What happened? John’s perspective has changed - probably partly due to his circumstances. How can the Kingdom be near if Herod seems to be growing in power? John is also hearing about the things Jesus is doing.
And it’s not what John expected. John expected that the Messiah would bring judgment on the earth. Whatever the expectations were of a Messiah in the 1st Century Jesus does not fit John’s criterion of a fiery destroyer of sin.
John is distressed that Jesus is not the Messiah he expected or would have chosen. Something Jesus was doing did not seem quite right to John. He was not acting the way John assumed the Messiah would. And so John wonders if Jesus was the one.
When John said “Repent for the Kingdom of God has come near” he meant that our entry into that Kingdom was dependent upon our conversion.
When Jesus says “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven has come near, he means that our participation in that Kingdom involves a change of heart and life.
John’s question is brutally honest. It is also a question that has been asked since he asked it. It may have been asked aloud or in the minds and hearts of the faithful. “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?”
John’s situation is not unknown to us, many of us find ourselves living in situations that seem far less certain and hopeful than they used to be.
So how does Jesus answer John? As we have come to expect with Jesus, there is rarely a direct answer. Instead Jesus uses words from the Prophet Isaiah.
Jesus says that a new age of life and love and justice is coming.
We might well ask when?
Jesus says that creation is flourishing, that healing is occuring, that the weak are being strengthened, that life is emerging from death. These are the signs that we are to be looking for.
Can we see and trust these signs? Are we watching for healing, strength, courage, hopefulness, joy and new life?
We need strength and courage.
John and Jesus preached a very different message. Both John and Jesus were willing to risk sharing their message in public against well prepared opponents, even when it meant speaking truth to those in power. For John it meant being imprisoned and then murdered. For Jesus it meant being murdered on a cross.
Jesus does not give straight answers in our Gospels and possibly in our experiences. We have to decide for ourselves. Is Jesus the one?
Our society is one that likes evidence. We like concrete answers. We like to be able to know things for certain. When it comes to John’s question - are you the one? John had to figure out the answer for himself as do we. The Gospels tell us that many of those who encountered Jesus were often confused about who he really was. To be a disciple or a follower of the way we recognize that we are still learning how to follow Jesus.
When John asks are you the one? Jesus does not say yes and does not say no. Instead the answer is it is not going to be like you expected. I am not what you expected.
What are we expecting in this season of Advent as we prepare and await the story of the birth of Jesus - the Messiah - are you the one or are we to wait for another?
If Jesus is the one that was anticipated and waited for then why is there still so much suffering and pain and evil and destruction and hurt and brokenness in God’s good creation?
What do we expect to see in this Messiah?
And what about us - are we passive waiting for someone else to make things better? Are we waiting for God or Jesus to come and do the heavy lifting?
Jesus was clear in his response to John. I am not what you expected.
What do you expect? How will you receive Jesus? Is Jesus the one who was to come or are we waiting for someone/something else that better fits what we would like God to be?
Jesus talked about the Kingdom where forgiveness and love and justice and healing and mercy replace hate and guilt and suffering.
This is the Kingdom worth working for. This is a Messiah worth following. One that realigns us, transforms us, loves us.
Jesus did not come to meet John’s expectations of what a Messiah was. Jesus did not come to meet what our expectations may be. Jesus came to meet our needs.