Third Sunday of Advent
December 16, 2001
The Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11
Sermon: "What do you come to See"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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."
"What do you come to See"
Third Sunday of Advent - December 16, 2001I wonder if we realize how dependent we have become on seeing. I am not talking about sight. I am talking about seeing. There is a difference in the two terms. Sight generally refers to the physical act of seeing. Through our eyes most of us can see shapes, colors, houses, streets, even each other. Seeing has a broader definition. We sometimes use it to describe the physical act. We also use the term seeing when we are looking beyond the physical. The act of seeing means being curious about the meaning of something. We want to know what happened. We want to know why something happened. We want to understand what is going on. Our society, our nation, our individual acts show how much we want to see.
In our society we want to see the intimate details of life. Look at the number of reality shows present on television today. We have Real Cops, Real TV, Temptation Island, and Survivor I, II, III. We even have one called Real Pets. All of these shows draw us through our own curiosity into the lives of the people involved. We want to see what they are doing. We want to be able to join in the discussion when people are talking about Jason and Erica on Temptation Island.
Our society has gone even further with television through shows like Jerry Springer. Now, we get to see into the intimate details of someone's life. Have you noticed how some of these shows draw the strangest people? Yet, the audience is always full, and people obviously tune in because the shows are still on.
Our nation is caught up in wanting to see. CNN broadcasts the news twenty-four hours a day. We get home and tune in so we can see if we have caught Osama bin Laden yet. How many times did we see the planes fly into the towers?
But the most telling facts of our addiction to seeing is the fact that we now want to see it to believe it. As individuals we don't believe what we hear anymore. For something to be true, whatever the something is has to be seen. We feel better if we see it ourselves, but if a trusted friend sees it and tells us about it, then it must be true. This week the government was reluctant to release a tape about Osama bin Laden. The quality was so poor the government wasn't sure people would believe it was real. They believed people might think it was a fake. On the other hand, a toy company has developed a toy broom. This broom is a replica of the one Harry Potter has in the movie. The company has a warning label on the side of the broom. The label reads Caution. This is a toy. This broom does not fly. We are really caught on believing what we see.
Our dependence on seeing today makes Jesus' words to the crowd very relevant. John is in prison. He has sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask if Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus tells them go and tell John what you hear and see. As they leave Jesus turns to the crowd following him. He asks them about John. Jesus says, "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?" In other words why did you come out to see John? Some of the people came out of curiosity. They heard about the crazy man in the desert wearing camel hair clothes and eating bugs. They just had to see him to believe it was true. Others heard about his message of baptism and repentance. Some of these people came to see if he was following the rules. Is he preaching the truth or is he preaching blasphemy and heresy? Still others heard about his message and they recognized the words and the actions of the prophets of old. They understood something deeper than the eye or the act of seeing could comprehend. They were not
interested in the details of what they could see with their eyes. They were interested in the words of repentance and hope John was speaking. They did not come to see a crazy man. They came to see a prophet. They came to see one who spoke for God. They came to be with one who offered repentance, forgiveness and hope.
These people had not seen a prophet from God in a long time. These people had not heard a word from a prophet of God for a very long time. They were hungry and thirsty for God. They wanted to know deep in their hearts that God still loved them. They wanted to know God cared. They went out to see if the God of their fathers still was present. They came to see.
What they did not realize is what they did see? This crowd, these people, who came to see a prophet saw not only a prophet. These people saw the messenger of the Messiah. Furthermore, the one they were looking at now, the one speaking to them is the Messiah. They came to see a prophet. They were standing in the presence of God. How could they know? What could they see to show them his identity?
Jesus tells John's disciples, "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." These actions are the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah. When these actions are seen then the people will know they are in the messianic age. They will know the Messiah is among them. The people are seeing the fulfillment of the prophecy. They are standing in the presence of the Messiah. The messianic age has begun. The Kingdom of God has come.The same question can be asked of us. We, who live in a highly dependent visual world, struggle with the same question. What do you come to see? What has piqued your curiosity? Do we come because it is the right thing to do? My parents were raised in the church so I guess I better come too. Do we come because it is the right social move? Everybody whose anybody believes in Jesus Christ in this town so I better go too. Do we come out of some curiosity? How can people believe the Son of God was crucified on a cross? Or do we come out of curiosity and see with our eyes the wonders of God in the world? We see our children and adults baptized in water. We were blind, but now we see. We see the needs of others in the world around us. We were deaf to the cries of pain and sorrow, but our ears are opened now. We see people who are sick and ill, restored to wholeness. We see the lame walk. We see those who are dead in spirit, heart and mind, raised to life with hope, compassion and love. The signs of the Kingdom of God are all around us. We see them continually in our friends, neighbors, and family. We experience the restoration of sight, hearing and spirits raised in our own lives. We see and we hear the Good News proclaimed. We live in the days of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is here. The Kingdom is Now. Jesus Christ stands before us. We see all these miracles and yet do we really see?
John the Baptist is gone. The crowds who came to see John are no longer there either. The desert remains. The world remains. We are now the crowd. Instead of John we come to see Jesus. Now, Jesus asks us, "What do you come to see?"