John the Baptist is locked in a cell, full of doubt, wondering what the whole Jesus experiment is really all about. He is left questioning everything.
What is my role in this? Was I wrong?
What he’s really thinking is this:
Jesus isn’t the Messiah.
This Sunday’s gospel is Matthew 11:2-11, and just in case you are wondering what Advent is really all about, it is right here, in the middle.
Jesus doesn’t look like the Messiah that John was anticipating. He isn’t acting like the Messiah. If it doesn’t walk like a duck or talk like a duck, then it must not be a duck.
John reaches out to Jesus to find out if he was wrong about him. Jesus’s response is simple: look around you. He doesn’t say find the proof for yourself so much as list seven things:
- The blind see
- The lame walk
- The lepers are cleansed
- The deaf hear
- The dead are raised
- The poor have good news
- And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.
The hard truth about Jesus is that all of the first six will be those blessed in number 7.
But what of the rest of us?
The Jesus of the gospels will not offend those it changes. Unfortunately for those that aren’t those blind, lame, sick, deaf, dead, or poor people who have been changed by Jesus: in other words, those unchanged: the Jesus of the gospels is going to offend us.
We’re going to be offended when we hear the message that Jesus actually delivers, not the one we want to hear.
All Advent long, these gospel lessons point to one thing: the Kingdom that is coming is one in which the poor are raised up and the powerful are brought low.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Oops! John must have misunderstood his own proclamation from last week.
When our tradition talks about the purpose of Advent, we say that it isn’t just about the first coming of Jesus, but the second. The purpose of the season, then is not to prepare once again for the birth of Jesus and keep our fingers crossed that we can all get drunk with Jesus in the eschaton.
It’s about the Kingdom of Heaven, baby. A kingdom where earthly kings are toppled and brought low and the poor and the weak and the sick and the hurt and the demoralized and the disenfranchised are brought to the favored spot right next to Jesus.
And unless you are a minority in some way, you don’t get to be anywhere near that favored spot, let alone the head of the line.
In the U.S., that means the straight, white, college-educated, wealthy, healthy, able-bodied men are at the back. And all the people we love and despise are ahead of us.
If we don’t confront the fact that so many of us refuse to be offended and scandalized by what Jesus actually says, then we aren’t dealing with the gospel. The danger of Jesus’s words are that we might try to change them rather than be changed by them.
Man, I love Advent.
Here’s how I preached this gospel on Sunday.