3d Sunday of Advent
Matt 11: 2-11
Dec. 15, 2013
Boy Scouts, Seton Reservation, Greenwich, Conn.
“John the Baptist … sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’” (Matt 11: 2-3).
John the Baptist is in prison. King Herod has put him there because John had condemned the adulterous relationship he was living in, and when you criticize a king you’re likely to get into trouble. Eventually Herod will have John executed.
Being in prison meant John couldn’t follow the teaching and the healing of Jesus personally. He could only hear about Jesus by word of mouth—no text messaging, not tweeting, not telephone, not even a newspaper in the 1st century.
John is puzzled by what he hears. Do you remember what he was preaching before he was arrested? Last week we heard a sample. He was warning sinners of the wrath of God about to descend upon them when “the one who is coming” shows up: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. He will gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (3:10,12). So “the one who is to come,” i.e., the Savior, the Messiah, will send unrepentant sinners straight to hell—which will be a lot more unpleasant than getting to close to that fire in the fireplace. This Messiah will be a fire and brimstone guy.
But that’s not what John’s hearing about Jesus. What’s he hearing, do you think? (Cf. 11:4-5, and more.)
So he sends that message to Jesus. Does Jesus give a direct answer?
What answer does he give? (11:4-6) What does that mean? that Jesus is a really good doctor?
No—Jesus is alluding to what Isaiah prophesied in the 1st reading (35:5-6). Jesus is saying he’s the one fulfilling the prophecy, that prophecy and others. He is “the one who is to come,” and you can see that plainly from his actions and his words—“the good news” that he proclaims about God’s love for everyone, God’s readiness to forgive those who repent of their sins, God’s closeness to everyone, especially the poor, the sick, the powerless, refugees, those discriminated against.
Time just named Pope Francis “Person of the Year,” which means, in their opinion, he had the biggest impact of anyone on the news in 2013. Why has he had such an impact?
There are several reasons. One is that he’s tried to imitate Jesus by embracing the severely handicapped and the severely disfigured and prisoners and refugees. He’s repeatedly proclaimed God’s mercy, God’s love, while still challenging people who are responsible for unjust and sinful situations like war, greed, abortion, and other forms of selfishness. So people see in him a Christ-image, a Christian. And they respond to him as so many did to Jesus.
When someone’s baptized, we also say that they’re “christened.” Do you know what that means? What does it mean to “whiten” something? In very old English, that –en ending means “to make into.” Something that’s whitened is made white. Someone who’s christened is made into Christ, made a Christian.
Do people see us—you and me—as people who’ve been made into Christ, made into images of Jesus? Not are you “the one who is to come,” but are you really a follower of the One who has already come? What do people see when they look at you or me? a healer, a peacemaker, a helper? kindness, mercy, compassion? If so, then they’re seeing an image of Christ! Then we’re making Jesus present in today’s world, as Pope Francis is doing. It’s the responsibility of everyone who’s been christened to do that, to show Jesus to the world.