The scripture for this text is Matthew 11:1-10. It can be found here: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=348506637
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(Creative Commons image by Penelope Jonze on Flick
Life is full of Questions. Some questions are difficult to answer. Some questions are more rhetorical in natural. And some questions are just kind of funny. I ran across some questions as I was preparing this week.
- Why is the word abbreviation so long? It’s kind of an interesting little question.
- Is there another word for synonym? I don’t think there is.
- How come you never read the headline, ”Psychic wins lottery?” It just doesn’t happen. Huh?
- Why do we press harder on the remote control buttons when we know the battery is dead? You know you do that. I do that, too.
- If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?
- If a cow laughed, would milk come out her nose? Just something to think about.
In our gospel lesson John the Baptist has a question for Jesus. He is sitting in prison. Things don’t look good. He sends some friends to ask Jesus a heartbreaking question. “Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another?” Do you hear the agony in that question?
John is Jesus’ cousin. Luke tells us that after the angel visitation when Mary discovers she is pregnant she goes to visit her aunt Elizabeth who is also pregnant. We told that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leapt for joy in her womb. Things are going from bad to worse for John. In a short time Salome will dance for Herod and John will be beheaded.
Like most of Israel at the time of Jesus, John expected the Messiah would kick out the Romans, put an end to oppression, evil, and all the opposed God. Certainly, that meant getting him out of prison! He was family after all. Can you hear the question under the question? Why aren’t you doing something to help me?
It is not just a question John asks. At one time or another it is a question most of us have asked. Why don’t you do something?! It’s a cry born of pain, disappointment, and heartache.
We see children malnourished and hungry and we wonder, “God, why don’t you do something?” We see oppression, violence, and hatred and we wonder, “God, why don’t you do something?” We experienced strained relationship and deep divides, we see our loved ones suffer from chronic illness, or we find ourselves burdened, wore down, hurting, or sick and we wonder, “God, why don’t you do something?”
The season of Advent is a season of waiting, but let’s be honest there are times when we are just plain tired of waiting. There are times when what we want is relief – not someone to join us in our pain.
But, did you notice. There is a stark contrast here. John asks Jesus, “Are you the one?” Jesus doesn’t directly answer John’s question or the question under his question. Instead Jesus frames the issue. He tells the friends to report back to John what they see and hear. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
The promises made by God in Isaiah are being fulfilled. Jesus invites John to look at something other than his own circumstance. In doing so, Jesus invites John into faith – What will he believe about Jesus? And even more importantly, what will he trust Jesus and God to do? With his life literally on the line – Jesus invites John to see something bigger than his immediate situation – a tall order – and trust that God will be at work for him, just as he sees God at work for others.
This is not easy stuff. But it is what Advent is about. Truth be told it is one of the primary jobs of the church. We gather together – we come week after week – in order that for a moment we can be pulled out of ourselves and offered an alternative way of seeing the world. Have our world reframed.
Arthur Lenehan, shares a what means to have our world reframed in a story he shares in The Best of Bits and Pieces.
One time a wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.
By Unknown USGS employee – Original source: USGS “Minerals in Your World” website. Direct image link: , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=110080
The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone in the wise woman’s bag, admired it, and asked the wise woman to give it to him. The wise woman did so without hesitation.
The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the jewel was worth enough to give him security for the rest of his life. But a few days later he came back, searching for the wise woman. When he found her, he returned the stone and said, “I have been thinking. I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back to you in the hope that you can give me something much more precious. “If you can, give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”
The traveler had come to realize the value of having his world reframed.
Jesus invites us to see with new eyes. To be open to open to God’s continuing activity in the world. The world clearly isn’t fully all that God wants it to be. But, God is still at work, in the world and in our lives. Every now and then we get glimpses.
Jesus says to John. Look here. See that? Look there. And over there. And over here. Jesus calls John’s attention to God at work in the world through him. And every now and then we still get glimpses. Jesus comes to meet us in bread and wine offering himself to us. He comes to us in the waters of baptism claiming us and promising to work through us. And every now and then we catch of glimpse of God working through our friends and neighbors.
I have one more story. This story is told by a man named, Herb. Herb shar
One day I went into a store. There was man behind the counter who saves the paper for me. I have known him for years. He was standing at the window with tears in his eyes, staring out at the bus stop across the street.
He turned to me after a bit and said, “Herb, do you see that bench over there?”
I nodded and he went on. “There’s an old woman who comes there every day around this time. She sits there for about an hour, knitting and waiting. Buses come and go, but she never boards one and she never meets anyone who is getting off. She just knits and waits.
I took a cup of coffee over to her one day and sat with her for a while. She told me that her son is in the navy. She last saw him two years ago when he left town on one of the buses right out there. He’s married now, and he and his wife have a baby daughter. The woman has never met her daughter-in-law or seen her grandchild, and they’re the only family she has.
She told me, “It helps to come here and wait. I pray for them, knit little things for the baby, and I imagine them in their tiny apartment on the base. They are saving money to come home on the bus next Christmas. I can’t wait to see them.”
My friend behind the counter took a deep breath, and then he said, “I looked out there just now, and there they were getting off the bus. You should have seen the look on her face when they fell into her arms and when she laid eyes on her little granddaughter for the first time. It was the nearest thing to pure joy that I ever hope to see. I’ll never forget that look for as long as I live.”
When I went back the next day, my friend was in his usual place behind the counter. Before he could say anything, or even hand me my paper, I looked him in the eye and I said to him, “You sent her son the money for the bus tickets, didn’t you?”
He looked at me with eyes full of love and a smile that was the nearest thing to complete joy that I have ever seen, and said, “Yes, I sent him the money.”
Herb, concluded, “I’ll never forget that look for as long as I live.”
Every now and then we get glimpses. Happy Advent. Amen.