Sermons

3 Advent 2019

Today’s gospel reading deals with expectations which remind me of several psychiatrist stories. You may have heard about the fellow who came to the psychiatrist’s office and said to him “Doctor, I have suicidal tendencies! What should I do?”  The doctor replied, “Make an appointment to see me right away, and also please pay in advance.”

And then there was the engineer and the psychiatrist who met up for their 20th college reunion. The engineer said, “I’m surprised to see you still looking so young. I would have thought listening to people’s problems all day would have given you a mass of wrinkles and grey hair.” The psychiatrist replied, “What, do you think we listen?”

The thing is we expect psychiatrists to be sympathetic don’t we? We have expectations of others and when people don’t live up to our expectations, when people act differently than what we had anticipated we are disappointed, perhaps disillusioned.

In our gospel reading we see that John the Baptist was in prison. How that came to be is as follows, King Herod had a brother who lived close to Rome and when Herod was visiting him, he began to have an affair with his brother’s wife, Herodias. When Herod came back to Palestine he asked Herodias to join him and she left her husband and came back with Herod.  Herod’s wife then left and went back to live with her father. After that happened, John said publically, King Herod is committing adultery; he should not be sleeping with his brother’s wife.  This got John arrested and put in prison.  Prisons in the first century were different than our prisons. People were not put into prison to be punished; they were put into prison as a place to hold them until they could have their trial and then typically get punished or rarely released. Since they were simply holding areas there were no provisions for meals or beds or anything like that. They were simply held in locked rooms or in some cases, pits with guards assigned to make certain that they stayed put. So this was John’s situation. Except that John never really went to trial. Herod didn’t want to kill him because he knew he was a man of God and yet he didn’t want to let him go either because he knew John would not keep quiet.  So John was in a sort of limbo. His disciples would be the ones who would bring him food and any kind of news. It would have been a lonely and very uncomfortable situation. John was the one who prepared the way for Jesus.  John was the one who said about Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  John is the one who said, “He must increase and I must decrease.”  John is the one who said, “I saw the Spirit descend on him while he was being baptized.” It was through John’s testimony that half of Jesus 12 disciples, Andrew, Peter, James, John, Philip, and Nathaniel, even came to be his disciples.

Yet, here in this gospel reading while John is in prison he sends word to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah?” What has happened?

You see, Jesus was not doing all what John and the other Jews thought he was going to do. In most Jews’ minds the Messiah was going to drive out the foreign invaders and establish God’s rule in Israel.  Things were going to be great.  God was going to make Israel’s armies invincible.  There was going to be a time of prosperity and peace; it was going to be glorious.  But Jesus wasn’t doing the right things.  He wasn’t gathering an army.  He wasn’t challenging the establishment, at least not like John thought he should.  And now John was in prison, sitting all alone, and he feels forgotten. Was John afraid that Herod would have him killed? He knows Herodias, Herod’s consort, wants him dead.  We do not know for certain if he was afraid or not, but it was a place where the most faithful of men would be sorely tested.  Many of us know that it is really hard to hang in there with faith when you feel alone and events around you look bleak. And John was struggling.  And so he sends word to Jesus, “Are you really the one who God promised would come?”

I want you to note what Jesus does not reply to John. He doesn’t say, “Hello!! Of course, I am the Messiah; remember what you yourself said?  Remember the Holy Spirit descending upon me?  Repent from your doubts oh you of little faith!”  Instead, Jesus says, “Tell John the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news brought to them” What Jesus was doing was quoting a prophecy from Isaiah.  We heard this in our Old Testament reading. The eyes of the blind would be opened the lame would leap like deer, the deaf would hear and so on.  Why does Jesus do this instead of just saying, “Yes?”  He does it to show John that he is the Messiah and he is fulfilling the prophecies.  He is saying, “Don’t worry, you didn’t make a mistake. I am the Messiah. You didn’t point to the wrong guy; I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.”

But you see despite those words, Jesus did disappoint John, didn’t he? John was hoping for a political revolution.  John was looking for a new physical kingdom for Israel. Perhaps he was hoping Jesus would rescue him from prison.  Instead what happens? Shortly after this, John is rudely wakened in the middle of the night, pulled from his cell, forced to put his head on a block and then his head is chopped off.  He never gets out of prison alive.  And Jesus disappoints people on a regular basis doesn’t he? We want God to solve the problems of the world. And we want him to solve our own problems. We want Him to solve our health problems, financial problems, family problems, and whatever. And sometimes he just doesn’t do what we are hoping. We like John the Baptizer are disappointed in Jesus.

Part of the problem is that like John, we are expecting things from Jesus that he has not promised that he will do. As we read through the gospels what did he claim he would do? He claimed that he would give new life to those who believe in Him. He claimed that this new life would become eternal life. And it is true. We who believe do have new life and we do the confidence that we and those others who have believed in Jesus will have eternal life. John the Baptizer claimed that Jesus would take away the Sin of the world. And Jesus did do that too. When He died on the cross he not only paid the penalty for our sin, but the sin of the whole world. Furthermore, he broke the power of sin so that through his grace we too can have victory over sin in our own lives.

The question is what am I expecting from Jesus? We need to differentiate between our desires and what he has promised because we can utterly depend upon his promises. But that is not to say that what we desire is necessarily wrong. God tells us to ask Him about those things.  We are to bring all our requests to God. We are to ask God to be healed, ask for deliverance from our problems and sufferings. God does heal, and He does deliver. But even in those times where He does not heal or does not deliver, He stays with us. Because that is another promise Jesus gave us. He told us that would never leave or forsake us. So even if he requires us to go through sufferings and troubles he walks with us through those times. He loves us with a great and mighty love. We may not know why we have to go through whatever it is we are going through but we can be assured that He understands, sympathizes, and relates with our situations because he has gone through sufferings too.  Amen