Sermon for 12/15/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
Gospel: Matthew 11:2–11
2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 4Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the 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. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
7As 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? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written,
'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.'
11Truly 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.
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
A lot can happen in a week. At this time last Sunday, we heard John the Baptist proclaiming, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Boldly, calling people to repentance in anticipation of the coming of Jesus.
Now, we read that John the Baptist is in prison, in a despairing situation, wondering if Jesus is the Lord whose coming he had proclaimed.
None of us are currently in prison, I hope this is obvious even to the Confirmation students. Yet, as we hear this word, and try to wait with hope for the coming of our Lord, there may be a reason why we do seem so captivated by all the things there are to do at this time of year, and in this season of Advent. Perhaps, we keep ourselves rushing about, because if we stop, and think and reflect, or do any of that slowing down that sounds so great, we find that the things to reflect on aren’t going to fill us with joy.
I’m sure John the Baptist had a lot of time to think while in prison, and this probably gave him a lot of time to think about the seemingly hopeless situation he was in. In turn, if we stop and reflect on the situation of this world we’re living in, it can get pretty hopeless; especially as we are memorialize the events that shook us only a year ago.
So, maybe John, who had already baptized Jesus, needed some hope. Yes, the same John the Baptist, who in the words of Jesus was the greatest human being who ever lived, in the midst of his captivity, needed the hope of something greater than he himself could give or produce, so he asks Jesus, “Are you the one?” meaning the one who is sent by God, to be the bearer of light, hope, and peace to all the world.
And in response, we hear what Jesus tells his messengers. “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.”
A year ago we saw and heard horror, and like John the Baptist, we wondered about the hope of God, and the hope found in the One, who would declare such Good News.
And throughout this year, and years past, we all have things to deal with in our own personal lives; the deaths of loved ones, bodies that aren’t working properly, or financial problems that don’t get better, and we, wonder about who this Jesus is. “Is he really the One?”
There is a reason it gets very hard to slow down and reflect on our lives, on our world, and on our faith, whether it is this time of year, or any time. We don’t want to see the reflection. And, this slowing down and reflecting, that seems to be the magic bullet for all of life’s problems does not, in and of itself, do anything to strengthen us in faith, hope, and life, in fact it can do just the opposite, and lead us into an isolating depression. Really, we’re so aware of this, that we as humans in this time and place subliminally train ourselves so that all the things we do, especially in this joyous time of year, are not even options, we have to put a tree up, we have to go shopping, we have to send out cards, we have to be the greatest bringer of Christmas that there ever was.
Focusing on the things we have to do, keeping busy, keeps us from the emptiness that is our lives, it keeps us thinking about things that we can conceivably have some control over. And, it keeps us from thinking about the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the dead, and the poor who we can’t do a whole lot about. Keeping busy keeps us from asking our questions to Jesus. Questions that come from despair, hopelessness, hurt, envy, and especially doubt.
When it comes down to it, if the option is being kept preoccupied with lights, giving and receiving gifts, and clichés of peace and goodwill or delving into a pit of despair, we’re good to keep busy.
But I am here today, called to preach the word by Jesus himself, and this is what I have heard and seen. I have seen those who can’t see, walk safely through busy intersections, I’ve been in the company of those who can’t hear, as they listen intently, I’ve been made to laugh by those who are rising from the death of addiction, and my life has been enriched by those who have no money. I’ve even danced with people who can’t walk.
I have seen and heard and experienced the One who is sent from God, the one who gives us hope, not in making everyone healthy in the way we humans think, but in giving us the gifts of those who societies have historically shunned. The reality is, this One, Jesus Christ, has come to me, and all of us, not in the comfortable places of our lives. You know, the places in the commercials where everything is perfect, we have not a care in the world, and we are both in our pajamas and showered all at the same time. Jesus has come to us on the way prepared for him by John the Baptist. The way of the wilderness, the way where there is struggle and challenge and an education not in having it all, but in what it means to trust in God and each other.
If John the Baptist was looking for signs of hope, signs of “The One” while he was in prison, (and before he was beheaded), can you imagine the despair of those who had hoped when this One, Jesus Christ was crucified. The kind of despair we would rather not think about. It is in this despair, that Jesus Christ comes to us today, broken and shed, crucified and risen. This is the broken body that continues to live in, with, and through our life together. This is the light that darkness cannot overcome, and it is given to us today, and every day of our life.
It’s not Christmas yet, and the decorations aren’t all set-up, and none of us are in the perfect reflective state, but Jesus doesn’t care. He just says, take and eat; I am given for you.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt,