Third Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2004
The Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11
Sermon: "What did you go out 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 the, "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 did you go out to see?
Third Sunday of Advent - December 12, 2004
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. We have thirteen days remaining Until the celebration of Christmas. I'm sure we have noticed the many decorations in our neighborhoods and communities. I know we have noticed the crowds in all of the shopping centers. I know we have been busy ourselves with a multitude of preparations for this day and these events. One question arises as we do all of these preparations. What are we expecting to happen? For whom or what are we busy doing all of these preparations?
One answer to this question might be that we are preparing for the company we will receive. Or we might also say we are preparing for the family celebration. Another possibility is that we might say we are preparing for that hour on Christmas Day when the presents will be opened. Then we will see what has been so beautifully wrapped under the tree for the past couple of days or weeks. I would submit all of these are reasons we go through the rituals of preparing for Christmas Day.
However, there is another reason for our preparation. We prepare ourselves: our souls, our bodies and our spirits for the possibility of the fulfillment of the coming of the Messiah. What happens if we do all of this preparation and the Messiah does not come, we ask? We have our doubts that the time has come. We often see doubts as negatives. Sometimes doubts lead us to answers.
For example, look at John the Baptist in the Gospel from Matthew. Remember John recognizes Jesus as the Messiah at his baptism. He almost refuses to baptize Jesus because he believes Jesus should be baptizing him. In this reading John has some doubt. He has been imprisoned. Herod wants his message quieted down. He still hears about Jesus' deeds and yet, he wonders and he asks, "Are you the one who is to come...?" John has doubts that Jesus is the Messiah. Perhaps it is because Jesus is not fulfilling the expectations of the Messiah, as John understands them. Whatever the reason there is a little doubt. Jesus tells him, "... 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." In other words, yes, I am the one. John has his answer. He had spent years in the wilderness preparing the way for the Messiah. He had preached a message of repentance and baptism. He had stood against the powers of his day and proclaimed with authority and conviction the coming of the Messiah. He had prepared himself and others for the coming of the Messiah. John receives his answer because he wasn't afraid to ask the question.
However, there is another question asked in this reading that deals directly with our preparation day. Jesus asks the people who came out to see John why they came. He asks, "What did you come out to see?" In other words why did they go to see John in the wilderness? Were they curious? Or did something about the stories of others draw them to John? Some of them went because of curiosity, but I'll bet others went out of hope. They went to see if the old prophets had indeed returned in John. They were not disappointed. John was real. He was a prophet of old. He did not dress fancy. He was not maintaining the status quo. He was speaking with authority from God.
Now, we have to deal with the question in a similar fashion. What are we preparing to see? Are we preparing ourselves simply for the celebration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem 2000 years ago? Are we expecting Jesus to be born as a baby on that night for us to honor? I hope that is not all we are doing. For if we are, we are missing the most important message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of Jesus Christ is one of incredible hope for all of us. It is a message of love and redemption. It began with his birth, yes, but it is very much alive today.
Jesus' message is alive today because we are living in the kingdom of God now. We know that Christ is alive. We know the love of God is real. We feel the love of God in various ways each and every day. We see it in the sunrise. We feel it in the hugs of family and friends. We experience the incredible love every time we see the hungry fed, the sick cured, and those who have been rejected received. We see and we hear the glory of God every time we hear the Good News preached and someone receive that message for their own. Yes, we live in the kingdom now and we do kingdom works.
However, we don't know all of the wonder and beauty of the kingdom now. The fulfillment of the kingdom is yet to come. Jesus will come again. On that day, the kingdom of God will be fully revealed and fully present. It will surround us like a warm blanket and we will know the fullness of God's love. It is this day, this moment, for which we prepare. It is kind of funny for us; for we are both like John and like the people of Israel. Like John, we are to be proclaimers of the coming of the kingdom. I'm not sure we need to wear a camel hair shirt and eat locusts, but we are called to share the message of the kingdom. Like the people of Israel, we are called to prepare our own hearts and our own spirits for the coming of Jesus in great glory. Through daily prayer, reading, and acts of mercy we prepare ourselves and others for the coming of Christ. We make room in our hearts for the coming of Christ.
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. The decorations are ready. The trees are lit. Many of the presents are bought and wrapped. We are ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Are we ready for Jesus to come again? Jesus asks the question, "Like John, are you ready to meet me face to face?"