How are you preparing for Christmas? Because I know that you eagerly follow the church’s guidance, you are slowing down and w-a-i-t-i-n-g in Advent. But honestly, who has the time for it these days? Besides, many aren’t even sure what to wait for. They’re not alone. Today we hear that John, the perpetual baptizer, is no longer sure he should wait for Jesus anymore.
It’s puzzling – sort of disappointing. John has been the warm-up act, warming up the crowds and introducing Jesus as Messiah. He’s worn himself out washing folks to get them ready for Jesus. John even baptizes Jesus, though he can’t figure why Jesus needs it. He’s present when God says Jesus is the one, the beloved. What’s happened?
What do we wait for in Advent? Self-righteous people like me want the unrighteous to know, “We’re onto you. We know what you wait for – a parking space at the mall.” They wait for someone to wait on them at the store, and take their money. They wait to hear a Lands End phone operator say, ‘Yes, we have your size.’” We’re all waiting at this time of year for something. Maybe we fear we don’t have enough.
Now John waits in the wings, off stage, no longer the center. He’s in prison – not exactly a choice place to wait for Messiah to start doing kingly things. Jesus now occupies center stage. John worries Jesus is having trouble finding the spotlight. So he sends his friends: “Uh, Jesus, John’s in prison and wants you to know – you might include him in your prayers. He sends us to ask – though we’d never ask you this ourselves – are you the one, or is another coming? He’s worried you’re underachieving.” “Well, you go and tell John what you see and hear – the blind are receiving sight; the lame walk; lepers are getting cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And if you’re not offended by me, you are blessed.” Do you wonder why Jesus just didn’t say, “Tell him I am the one,” and clear it up – for John and us? Instead, Jesus says to them — and us: “See for yourself, and then you decide.”
We don’t know if John lived long enough to get their report, and if he did, how he received Jesus’ answer. We do know that, so far, Jesus hasn’t lived up to John’s ideal Messiah. He does nice things, but can’t he do more? Jesus hangs with marginal folks, doesn’t rub shoulders with key leaders. Nor does he show he’s cut out to be a world changer. John’s not the first to ask, “If Messiah has come, why don’t things look different?”
What are we looking for, waiting for? John seems offended that Jesus is wasting time. Jesus will offend a lot of people. He must not offend us too much, though. We are here now entering week three of preparing and waiting. Do we believe Jesus is the One? A reason people get depressed this time of year is that they’re looking and waiting for the wrong thing.
Jesus says John is the greatest of the prophets. He’s done what all of us should be doing – pointing people to Jesus in word and deeds. It takes more than pointing, though. We must follow, too, and trust the Kingdom he brings is the Kingdom God sends. C. S. Lewis once said that the Christian story sometimes sounds screwy. He’s right. We’ve joined a movement that accepts and receives the Messiah God sends, rather than one we’d want.
The other day I learned that parents can let their kids post their wants on department store gift registries. How wonderful! If you want to give the kid what he wants for Christmas, now you can. Go to the registry. I doubt Jesus makes the lists. Yet that’s God’s Christmas gift to us. Only God would send a Messiah like Jesus. Left to us, we’d probably prefer our little Messiah to be born in a better place, have a more substantial family, better educated disciples, withhold the good news for only those who deserve it, and certainly not suffer and die on a cross. That offends people. But that’s the Messiah God knows we need. You see, God’s mission is to save us, not improve us.
Are you waiting for God’s gift this year? Is that what you want? I think so, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. You are here because Jesus is doing wondrous work among us – and you get it. He opens our eyes so we know what’s really going on. We see he’s in bread and wine when we make Eucharist. We see him in the least of these among us, and even in the friend who doesn’t believe God is, or Christmas matters. We see him in grieving families of Newtown who won’t let evil have the last word. We come up lame sometimes, but we’re determined to follow him as best we can. He’s always forgiving us, making us right with God when we get out of sorts. He gives us hearts to welcome the stranger and guests that he sends our way, because that’s what he does. He gives us a life that lasts forever. Bless you who are not offended by Jesus. If we can wait – slow down – look and listen for him – that’s how we know he’s the One.
What would you tell someone who asks you if Jesus is the One who has come from God? If we believe God shows up in human flesh – in a lowly Jew, Jesus – then we can bet God will show up any and everywhere – in some of the most unlikely people and places – even more importantly in us. Will others see enough Christ in us to believe Jesus is the One – or will they keep looking for another? I guess this Christmas we need to ask ourselves – “Is Jesus enough for me?”