December 15, 2013
“Tired of Waiting”
The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 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? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
10 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.’
11 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.
Let’s picture John the Baptist now. The view of his world has been narrowed to a single room. His whole life built to that one moment of heralding the messiah – of baptizing him to begin his work taking the world by storm.
But now he is pacing his cell and the doubts start to creep in – where was the revolution, the power, the king?
He hears these stories about Jesus touching the lepers who have not had a human touch during their illness. And stories about Jesus eating with people too ashamed of themselves to believe God loves them. And he heals people who thought there was no hope for healing.
And he preaches not about starting a revolution, but about a revolutionary way of life where we forgive and love our enemies and don’t judge other people, and we treat other people the way we want to be treated.
And there were more stories, where Jesus gathered a small, loyal group of followers and loved them and taught them and sent them out to do the same thing he was doing.
John hears about all this and he sends word to Jesus and asks, are you the right person? I thought you were but now I’m not so sure. This is not what I expected.
Literally he asks, “Are you the “coming one” (the common term for the expected savior figure) or should we wait for another kind of one?”
Should we wait for a different kind of messiah?
There is a story told about Soren Kierkegaard (who was a 19th century Danish philosopher) that as a boy he was shown a stack of paintings by his father. The first is a man dressed in a white robe and sandals holding a scroll. Who is that? Soren asks. That is Socrates. His father picks up the next painting, a man mounted on a horse wearing a suit of armor with an elegant sword held aloft, and who is he? His father answers, King Arthur. This goes on through several other great and noble men from history and then his father takes up the next painting. It is a man, dead, nailed to a cross, bleeding from his wounds– clearly the man suffered a horrible death. The boy taken aback by the horrific image asks trembling, Who, Papa, is that? His father turns to him and says–this is God. The boy, is scandalized, offended. How can this be God, who is surely greater, more noble and powerful than Socrates or King Arthur?
How can this tortured, man hanging in shame, be God?
That’s not what John had in mind either when he was envisioning the Messiah, when he preached by the Jordan River: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
He pictured something more like Jesus with muscles. Maybe that’s the kind of Jesus we would like too.
Into all our Christmas certainty comes John with his questions – is this the messiah God really meant to send?
It’s a good question because when we are waiting for the light to come into the darkness of our lives and our world, we can dream up a very different kind of messiah, a messiah of our own making – a messiah who will make our divorced parents reunite, a messiah who will make our depression disappear, a messiah who will clear away the cancer or the addiction, a messiah who will run the corrupt politicians out of a country and run things right, who will make the bad people pay, and who will dislike the same people we dislike.
We want a messiah who helps those who help themselves, a messiah who will stand up for himself, a messiah to be proud of.
Or maybe the opposite is true of us – we don’t expect all that much from a messiah – the Advent season is so brightly lit and we can be so focused on stuff we need that perhaps we barely register the darkness in our hearts and in the world, we barely notice the need for a messiah.
Maybe just a messiah to take the edge off, a buddy Jesus.
Instead of an advent filled with bright lights and “Joy to the World,” a dark advent would prepare us better for the Messiah God sends. In a dark advent we would be free to share the doubts we have, like John – this isn’t exactly what we expected — is God really here with us or are we still waiting?
In a dark advent we would notice that we are still between Jesus coming and Jesus coming again, we are between the promise made and its completion.
And maybe in a dark advent we admit that we are tired of waiting, like John. We whisper our advent prayer, “Come Lord Jesus” in the face of what we see in the world.
There are more people enslaved today than ever before in history, roughly 28 million people most of them women and children. There are thousands of children trafficked in our own country. Twenty thousand people die a day from hunger-related causes. Half the population of the world lives on less than 2 dollars a day. One billion women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, one out of every three on the planet. We live in a world the preys on the weak.
Jesus, are you the savior of the world, or should we wait for another kind of messiah?
And Jesus’ answer is not what we would expect. Notice that he doesn’t say yes. He points to the signs of the kingdom breaking into the world: “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.”
Powerful things are happening but not because Jesus came to assert his power. He says to us, this is the kingdom that I came to bring, it has already begun but it is not finished, and I am building it brick by brick through those who have faith in me, because I will transform them and they will do things they never thought possible.
God is transforming the world through his Messiah but never in our wildest dreams would we have thought it would be this way.
Jesus came not for the powerful and strong, but for the weak and vulnerable. In other words, he came for us.
And who would have expected that the kingdom would be built though us – through those of you who take in children who need homes, and those of you who hand out food every Tuesday at the Highland food pantry, and those of you who sponsor a child in Africa, and those of you who use your professional skills to do amazing things in the community, through those of you helping with WATTS, through those of you who repair houses for those who can’t do it themselves, or who drive people to their medical appointments who can’t do it themselves, for you high schoolers who will go hungry for 30 hours to raise money to feed others, to those of you who bought animals through the Heifer project to change lives, for those of you who give microloans through Kiva, and on and on.
Jesus is the kind of messiah who points not to himself, but to what God is doing in the world, and what God is doing through us. He tells us to pay attention, and to not be offended that this is how God chooses to save the world – to not be offended by the baby who is God with us, or the beaten, bloody, vulnerable human being on the cross. The Messiah is not who we thought he would be.
So what do we do with these questions and doubts? We pay attention, we watch for signs of the kingdom, we pray, “Come Lord Jesus,” we set aside our assumptions about the messiah and discover who Jesus is instead, and we add bricks to the kingdom.