Pastoral Message – December 11, 2022
You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.
During Advent, we hear a lot about anticipating the coming of the Lord and being ready for that blessed event. Today, the message of Advent is to rejoice! However, as our lives continue on, day after day, and we see every kind of terrible thing occurring in our community, in our nation and in the world, it’s hard to patiently maintain our faith not only in the Lord’s return, but also in the Lord’s presence in our daily lives. In today’s Gospel, it appears that John the Baptist is having one of those doubting moments.
Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel John speaks about “the one who is to come” (the Messiah) “who will baptize with the Holy Spirit…and will exercise judgment.” Like every other Jewish believer, John expected that the coming of the Messiah would be dramatic. Of course, moments after Jesus was baptized by John, there was some drama as the heavens were opened, and John saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon Jesus, and a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
But, after that dramatic scene, Jesus doesn’t really fit the mold of the conquering Messiah. Instead of defeating the Romans and restoring the nation of Israel, He proclaims the kingdom of God, calls upon people to trust in God, heals the sick, and befriends tax collectors and persons labeled “sinners.” It is little wonder that John, now sitting in prison with time to think, questions whether Jesus is the one to come (the Messiah) or not. Like most of us, John is growing impatient. Things are not moving as quickly as (or even in the direction that) he expected. Therefore, he sends his disciples to ask the essential question: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Of course, as we have come to expect, Jesus doesn’t answer directly. Much to John’s (and our) dismay, He will never reward impatience or doubt with instant gratification. Instead of proclaiming His own status as Messiah, he proclaims the kingdom of God. The same kingdom of miraculous peace that Isaiah described last week when he wrote, “The wolf shall be the guest of the lamb and…the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.”
Jesus asks the crowd three questions about John. The point of the three questions is to drive home the fact that the people went out to see a prophet. Indeed, John is “more than a prophet” in that he had a superior role. He was to be the herald of the Messiah’s coming, preparing his way. Jesus praises John as the greatest among “those born of women.” Yet, He also promises that those who follow Him to the kingdom of heaven are even greater persons. They are greater because they live to love and serve others; they hear God’s Word and act upon it; and, they place their trust in God.
Many people, including John, found Jesus to be an enigma. Many do today. His definition of greatness does not comport with secular societal norms. People cannot accept that the mission of the so-called “messiah” is to restore sight to the blind, to make the lame walk, to cleanse lepers, to restore hearing to the deaf, to raise the dead, and to bring good news to the poor. These elements of Christ’s mission speak of the Messiah in a counter-cultural way. Jesus did not come to gain earthly power. He came among the people to serve them, bringing life. Instead of casting away those persons who are at the margins of society — persons that many would want to send away and out of sight — it is precisely to those people to whom the Messiah came to restore and save.
Advent intrudes into our lives as Christians. The mood, the hymns, and the prayers of this season seek to open us up to new ways of thinking and acting. It is a time of expectation – patiently waiting for the coming of the Savior into the world. The Savior who, through His Word and through the Spirit, will stir us up to get involved in his ministry among those who are left out, on the margins of society, and who are in need. By ministering to the “least” in this world, we may actually secure for ourselves a place in the kingdom of heaven.
John did not live to see the complete ministry of Jesus, but we are blessed to not only know His complete story, but also to be part of his body, the Church. We ordinary Christians, who are “the least in the kingdom” in comparison to the great saints of Scripture and history, have seen the ministry of Jesus come to its completion, followed by His death, His resurrection, and the birth of the Church. We are not people adrift in the world with uncertainty about who we are, how we should live, or where we are going. We belong to His community of believers, dedicated to Him, instructed by Him, and carrying out His ministry. Those are great reasons to rejoice!