The Rev. Scott Murray
What an odd choice of gospel for the third Sunday of Advent, don't you think? Two weeks till Xmas, and here is John the Baptist, hot off the hell and brimstone preaching circuit of last week, hunkered down in a cold dark damp cell, prisoner of Harrod. There wasn't a great deal of "holiday cheer" for him nor his disciples. It seemed that his expectations of God's action in sending a messiah were not being met.
He was hearing other things, things about this Jesus character, but these things didn't match with the message he himself had been given to expect and deliver. The word brought back was that Jesus seemed, well, a little soft. He was preaching repentance, but it seemed like a soft sell.
A messenger is sent out with just one question. A simple yes or no reply would settle it all for John and his followers. Are you what we were expecting, or not? I'm in trouble here and in need of a little reassurance. If you are the guy I baptized, what's the plan? The world seems not to have changed since I last saw you leave to go into the wilderness.
What are you waiting for, this Advent Season? "Come Thou long expected Jesus" we sing, but exactly what expectations are we holding? In this season of light and dark, what are we waiting for?
"And so try as we might to deny the darkness of the season and our spirits by adding candles to the wreathe or presents under the tree, all it takes is the loss of a friend or a job or a loved one to prick our good-cheer bubble and leave us in a funk as dark and dank as John’s prison cell. And when this happens we too are at best concerned and far more often disappointed. Disappointed with ourselves, with the world, and even and especially with God, which feels all the worse at Christmastime." (working preacher)
Do we want a messiah who is a magician, one who waves his hands in the air and all our troubles and disappointments go away? One who is able to open the prison cell and lead us to daylight and freedom? Someone strong, at least, not one who hangs out with the lowly and the outcast. For John, and us, Jesus falls far short of the mark. He is not someone we can take pride in. In fact, he is someone with whom we often take offense with.
That odd phrase which Jesus tacks on at the end,"Blessed is he or she who takes no offense in me." Have you pondered that? Me, take offense at Jesus? Take offense at God? Oh yeah, all the time. Think about it. How could Jesus bring that person into my church? How could God possibly have mercy on that guy? After all I've done, surely God won't love me. That's taking offense. To see the hand of God at work in the world and be disgruntled and upset rather than being joyful.
We sometimes hear, if Jesus were to come back, perhaps during this very Advent Season, would we truly recognize him? Humph, not acting liking any messiah I've even thought of. Can't be him. Not my Jesus. And so that carries over into our daily life. Do you know what keeps you from recognizing him still, in day to day? Your own expectations of what you should be looking for. If you can manage to drop your expectations, get over a sense of offense, you will overwhelmed to see God working in all parts of your life and all throughout the world.
I used to think "If you have no expectations, you have no disappointments." I'm changing that one to a more positive stance. If you have no expectations, you'll have nothing but joy and wonder in seeing God's hand at work.