12/11/2016: See

12/11/2016:  See

Matthew 11:2-11

John the Baptist is in prison.

Last week he was a free man – remember?  He was out in the wilderness of Judea, wearing and eating strange things.  He was preaching, “REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR!”  He was drawing large crowds to hear his message and be baptized.

Not anymore.  Rulers don’t like radicals getting the people all riled up.  Worse, the Baptist dared to criticize King Herod’s choice in women (Matt 14:3-4).  Now John’s home isn’t the wilderness but a prison cell.  Eventually he’ll die there as a sort of side-show entertainment act for a wild dinner party.  Maybe even now the Baptist knows his life is on the line.  Maybe he can sense that there isn’t much that stands between him and an execution order.

A prison cell, I’m told, is a place where you have so much time to think that you easily fall into depression.  Maybe John the Baptist is doing just that kind of dark thinking.  Remembering the “good ol’ days” where he was free to live out his God-given purpose.  Remembering how he explained it to the crowds:

“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.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:11-12).

Jesus, of course, is that one.

John hears a report of what this one he predicted has been doing.  We don’t know exactly what they tell him, but their report leaves the Baptist with some doubts.  John wants more, so he sends a question to be delivered to Jesus in the outside world:

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (2:3).

Two thousand years later, we might wonder the same.  If Jesus is the “Prince of Peace,” why is the world so un-peaceful?  If Jesus is the “King of Kings,” why are so many nations out of control?  If Jesus came to save the world, why does the world seem so un-saved?  Where is that winnowing fork?  When has the chaff been burned off?

Look around!  Look at this mess.  Look at the suffering, the fighting, the cruelty.  As we wait for Jesus’s birth during Advent we wonder if we can really put our hope in that tiny Christ-child.  We wonder, like John:

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (2:3).

We wait with John the Baptist for an answer, wait as his disciples run off to find Jesus and ask him, wait as they make their way back to the prison and report.  Even as they stand before him our hearts are breaking with hope; our stomachs are nervous with fear.  And then we are told what Jesus said in response:

“Go report what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached by the poor” (11:4).

This is so typically Jesus.  It’s a bit hidden because there isn’t a question mark, but he’s doing that “answer a question with a question” thing again.  Just slightly rearrange those opening words and you get:

“What do you see and hear?”

Jesus provides the answer to that question for John:  the sick are healed, the dead are raised, the good news is preached by the poor.  All these events reflect Isaiah 35:5-6.  What they see and hear confirms that Jesus is, indeed, the Christ.

So how about us?  If we’ve ever wondered – like John – whether Jesus was really the Messiah; if we’ve ever had some doubts – like John – that Jesus was the one the world was waiting for… then we must ask ourselves:

“What do you see and hear?”

I’m a little ahead of you because I knew this question was coming.  I’ve been thinking about this all week.  I’ve been looking.  I’ve been listening.  And let me tell you what I see and hear.

I see a world where there is a strange value on self-sacrificial love.  Have you ever noticed how many movies end with one character making a sacrifice for another?  I’m not saying every movie, but a strange lot of them.  Think of the last movie you saw that really touched your soul.  I’ll bet you $5 the tear-jerking scene was where someone sacrificed something important for someone else.  It’s like Jesus hanging on the cross was an act of self-sacrificial love so epic, it sent ripple effects through all of history that continue today.

I see that.

I hear the words “I forgive you.”  Forgiveness doesn’t make sense; if someone wrongs us, “an eye for an eye” is much more fair.  But I hear forgiveness happening anyway.  I see the fruit of it in my congregation, my community.  This forgiveness happens because Christ forgave as he was hanging on the cross.  That that radical act of forgiveness inspires more radical acts of forgiveness, taking place every day if you have ears to listen.

I hear that.

Was Jesus Christ the one who was to come?

Yes, I believe it.  I believe that without the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I wouldn’t see all that self-sacrificial love.  I wouldn’t hear the words “I forgive you” very often.

But that’s me.  How about you?

In just two weeks we’ll celebrate the birth of Christ.  If you’ve ever wondered whether Jesus Christ was the one the world was waiting for, then look and listen and ask yourself:

“What do I see and hear?”

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