Have you ever bought something you’ve seen advertised and then been disappointed once you’ve gotten it home? Over the years I’ve fallen for a few items on TV shopping.
As I’m pounding my way on the cross-trainer at the gym there is an ad on the TV above me showing people standing on a vibrating board that can melt away my fat and give me the body I’ve been looking for and I ask why I don’t just buy one of those and not worry about all this physical exertion. I recently bought the hurricane mop because the guy on the ad made mopping look like fun and how it could clean anything with a simple wipe of this technologically designed mop. After it arrived I asked myself – is this really what I saw on TV?
It can be very disappointing when your expectations are not met.
John is an example of that. He had high expectations of Jesus. This was the one whose sandals John was not worthy of doing up. This was the one who was going to make John’s baptism look so lame compared to what Jesus was going to bring. So fired up was John that he stood up to the Pharisees and called them a brood of vipers. But something has changed.
His expectations of Jesus did not arrive. John took on the wrong person when he took on Herod and was now in prison. It sounds like John is beginning to have doubts and wants confirmation from Jesus: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? (Matthew 11:3)
What I like about Jesus’ response is that he doesn’t criticise John.
He doesn’t tell John’s disciples – go and tell John – you of little faith – why are you doubting.
Just like he didn’t criticise Thomas when he doubted Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus understands why John would be struggling to believe. In fact Jesus upholds John publicly despite his doubts: “among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11)
John was a great preacher and prophet, but his expectation of the promised Messiah didn’t fit Jesus. And that struggle is something each of us can go through at times. John wanted someone who would turn the religious and political order upside down; John wanted a Messiah who would sweep away the unreligious and the corrupt. Instead, John hears that Jesus was eating with the tax collectors who worked to collect taxes to support Rome, the enemy.
Jesus wasn’t judging and condemning sinners. Instead, he was sitting down to meals with them and making God’s forgiveness so easily available to them. Jesus was encouraging people to forgive their enemies — including their Roman enemies!
Things hadn’t worked out the way John expected. John was expecting fire and brimstone against the enemies of God! John the Baptist knew exactly who Jesus was. He jumped for joy in his mother’s womb when the two mothers met. (Luke 1:41)
In last week’s Gospel, John introduces Jesus as, “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.” (Matt 3:11) John the Baptist knows perfectly well who Jesus is. So, why is he questioning? John questions just like we question at times. John is in prison!
The Lamb of God is not saving John from prison, and the one who is supposed to take away the sin of the world is not taking away the sin of Herod. Maybe John misunderstood just what Jesus’ mission was in “taking away the sin of the world” and that it was forgiveness. Would you blame John the Baptist or anybody to doubt in such situation?
He expected more of Jesus. Maybe that’s what we want from Jesus too. We want Jesus to walk into Parliament and stop them from legalising same-sex marriage and euthanasia.
We want Jesus to demand that Christian schools and churches be allowed to only employ only Christians. Isn’t that what we expect Jesus to do?
We gather in prayer vigils and vote for Christian members of Parliament to ensure God’s will is done. And yet we see the opposite happening. We see the church stripped more and more of its rights and privileges.
In Jesus’ answer to John it is not about power and authority as John saw it. It was about a different type of power and authority vastly different to how the world sees and uses power and authority. Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back and tell him what you see and hear around me: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news preached to them. In other words, Jesus came to show God’s love and mercy. Jesus power and authority was shown by helping those in most need, those who didn’t have anyone else to help them, or anyone who could help them.
It is about justice.
Jesus didn’t come, as John had hoped, to destroy the wicked, but to restore the downtrodden; to give all people grace and mercy. Jesus was inviting the sinner back to God.
Even today, some still take offense at the kind of Saviour Jesus turned out to be.
Some, perhaps including some of us, want him to close the door on anyone different from ourselves. We have our list of those who shouldn’t make it in. But Jesus came to set us free from that way of thinking:
-to give us sight where we are blind
-to open our ears to what we have been ignoring
….-to give us a voice to speak out for the poor.
…. To loosen our tongues to speak God’s love and mercy rather than judgment.
Uncertain times can rattle us and cause doubts in our faith and spiritual journey. When we face adversity and disasters, we question if Jesus really is the Saviour of the world or should we expect another. We question why bad things happen, why God is not there for us. We fall into the trap of thinking that God only exists in good times. And it’s in those difficult times we cannot hear or see God’s presence. Doubting, like John the Baptist, is part of our spiritual journey. Part of our spiritual struggle as sinful human beings is to doubt. Even at his ascension some of the disciples continued to doubt: It says: The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16.17)
Sometimes we have to wait in uncertain, and anxious moments to see how God is working. Advent is a season of waiting, expectation, and preparation for the coming of Jesus – first at Christmas but also at the end of time. We know the certainty of the birth of Jesus – it’s what we celebrate every year. Yet, we are still waiting for the second coming of Jesus. This time of waiting can be an anxious and fearful time. There is chaos in different parts of the world.
We have our fair share of chaos causing disappointment, anxiety, fear, and anger in our lives.
More people question the presence of God than those who believe.
As Christians, during Advent we are to reflect, and pray while waiting for the coming or our Lord. As baptised children of God we were once blind and deaf, but now we can see and hear God’s good news. If we keep our eyes and ears open, we will hear and see plenty of God’s mighty work even in bad times. It is time for us to share the good news and hope with others especially with those who are in doubt. Despite what our eyes see and ears hear we know that Jesus is returning and until then he gives us eyes and ears of faith. And so James says: Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord… See, the Judge is standing at the door. It is hard when we go through life expecting that God is going to act a certain way if we have faith in him. But this life is not where God’s promises have been made other than the one Jesus made when he said – “I am with your always till the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20) because it is at the end of the age when God’s promises will be fulfilled. And so Jesus says until then: Don’t let your hearts be troubled – trust in God, trust also in me: I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
Another promise Jesus made. That’s what eyes and ears of faith see and hear.
Come Lord Jesus come.