This is the sermon I had prepared to preach today. Sadly, I am not well enough to preach it. Even still, as always, I enjoyed the wrestling with God’s word 🙂
What Do You Expect?
Scripture Readings: Matthew 11:2-11, Isaiah 35
You have probably seen this advertisement http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=o9gLqh8tmPA&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Do9gLqh8tmPA
If you are like me, you probably thought the ad was about the pencil. Because every statement is true for a pencil. Pencils can be used in business, in science, in the arts, and pencils have been used in space! Pencils are what we know. And it’s what we are looking at throughout the advertisement. However the advertisers aren’t talking about a pencil. They are talking about their tablet. All the statements are just as true for the tablet, but we don’t think of the tablet. Tablets are not our experience. For many of us, they are something new.
This video demonstrates the difficulties we have in explaining something new, something unseen, not yet experienced. What you expect very much depends upon your perspective and your experience.
In our reading today, we have a clash of expectations. John the Baptist is a Jew, and he would have grown up hearing stories of the Messiah and all the expectations of the people that went with it. You see, the people had been waiting for the Messiah, God’s anointed one, for many generations. Their experiences of anointed ones had been people like Elijah, Moses, and King David.
Elijah with the awesome displays of God’s power.
Moses with visible signs of God being with them and leading them.
David who united the people, forming them into a nation, the magnificent kingdom of God’s people on earth.
The expectations for the Messiah were based on the hopes and dreams of returning to the glory days of Israel. The Messiah was expected to be powerful. He was expected to change things significantly for the people of Israel. The Messiah was expected to restore God’s kingdom on earth.
Around Jesus’s time, there had been uprisings against Rome, planned partly in hopes that the Messiah would join them. Judas’ plot to betray Jesus some see as Judas trying to encourage the Messiah into battle against the Romans. Of course we all know Judas was very much mistaken.
When from prison, John the Baptist heard what Jesus had been doing, he sent someone to ask Jesus if he really was the Messiah or if there was someone else. In other words, Jesus’s actions weren’t exactly matching up with some people’s expectations. Maybe John’s disciples had been questioning this? Maybe John sent them to ask so they would get an answer from Jesus himself? Maybe John is doubting? Maybe he is trying to lure Jesus into a public declaration? Scholars don’t agree, and scripture doesn’t say.
What we do know is John the Baptist is a no nonsense guy. He didn’t send his disciples out to ask such a direct question unless he expected a direct answer.
First thing you notice is Jesus does not rebuke John for questioning. Jesus is compassionate. John’s in prison for making bold statements about Herod’s personal life, mainly his marriage to his brother’s wife. So he answers John’s question plainly, giving evidence of God’s kingdom breaking through. Blind see, lame walk, lepers are cleansed, deaf hear, dead raised, and good news is proclaimed to the poor. Real change that only God could do is happening! Changes that the prophet Isaiah had written about. Signs of God’s anointed at work in the world.
Second thing Jesus does is honour John. He asks the people gathered around him, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” John wasn’t a reed swayed by the wind. He wasn’t one to worry what people thought of him. If God gave him a message, he said it, regardless of the consequences he may face. John wasn’t dressed in the finest clothes out to impress people. John was interested only in God and the task God had given him.
He was there to be that voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Messiah. He was the one the prophets said would come before the Messiah.
And this Messiah, Jesus, was like no other anointed one they had seen so far in the history of Israel. Although the words of all the prophecies led the people to believe the Messiah would be like something they had previously experienced, God was doing something new in Jesus, building God’s kingdom not just as another nation state. No, God was revealing the heavenly kingdom that was breaking through into peoples’ lives with each healing, each cleansing, each proclamation of hope.
A clash of expectations that reached an uncomfortable climax as the Messiah went willingly to the Roman’s cross of execution, rather than lead a victorious rebellion against Rome.
So what’s this mean for us? We have a greater perspective, one that sees the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. One that knows of Pentacost and the gifting and teaching of the Holy Spirit. We can see how Christ has indeed built His church up over the years.
We are in the season of advent, and this is a good time to stop and ask yourself, when you look at Jesus, what do you expect?
A baby sleeping peacefully in a manger as kings and shepherds kneel by his bed?
A child baffling the Rabbis in the Temple, forgetting his parents, who in turn momentarily forgot about him?
A leader yielding his life and ministry to God as he went under the water and rose again?
An immigrant woman to be healed rather than turned away?
The child’s meager offering of food to feed us all?
The occupying soldier’s servant to be saved from death?
The Messiah to give his own life in exchange for yours?
For God to love you that much?
What do you see when you look at Jesus? Can you see both the baby and the man? Both the crucified and the king? Do you expect him to reign in your life? For him to make a difference now? Do you expect him to come again?
I’m going to finish by telling you a story. This week I got to see my daughter’s school Christmas play. My daughter’s class has two girls who have mobility issues. They both rely on walking frames or crutches. But the school has a very good ethos and strives to help every child do their best, meeting every child where they are. As I watched the play, I noticed that one of the girls was one of the singing angels. A group of girls stood up and got on stage, this little girl included. However she didn’t have her crutches. Instead the teaching assistant helped her onto the stage and held her around the waist. I wondered why.
As the angels began to sing, I quickly realised why, and I admit I began to cry.
It was an action song, so as the angels sang, they waved their arms about. Had the girl been using her crutches she would not have been able to join in fully with the song. As the teacher held her, the girl’s face lit up as she sang and waved her arms about alongside her classmates. For that moment, she was an angel.
And the teacher held her to make that possible.
And it made me think of Jesus, the Messiah with the servant heart.
The one who holds us.
Which is too easy for us to forget, because it’s not what we expect.