a homily for Advent 3A
Text: Matthew 11:2-11
From Repent to Doubt
When John appeared in the wilderness, a wild man dressed the prophet’s part, we caught a glimpse of his vision for the kingdom of heaven. He preached repentance and preparation: turning away from our pasts and toward a new future, living in a world more and more as GOD dreams it.
As I picture the scene, I can’t help but see all of the colors—the bright blue sky matching the water flowing in the Jordan. The smattering of white clouds, the yellow desert sand, the brown dirt along the river’s banks, darkened and wet, and the green speckled trees and grasses. These colors make the image of the kingdom of heaven as present here seem so likely, so true.
When we meet John again, we do so in such different conditions. Imprisoned, set to die, this once wild man is domesticated and brought low. I picture him on the floor of a dark, gray cell. No window to see that still blue sky, only found in his memory and imagination. A man of the expansive wilderness and the wild lands, John is now trapped in a small, enclosed, colorless world: broken, frustrated.
From the darkness in his heart, John reaches out to Jesus through his connections; no doubt employing a fellow prisoner who can “get things”: he is at the end and he doubts. Has he backed the wrong horse? Is Jesus really the one?
When we are living in our technicolored world, we, like Jesus go out into our community, proclaiming the Kingdom and showing Christ’s love to the world in our lives. As the old song goes, “they will know we are Christians by our love.”
For many of us, perhaps all of us at one time or another, that brightly-colored existence fades, grays, and the sky, water, ground feel small and lifeless; our relationships feel forced or selfish, and we feel empty, lost, wrong.
And if we’re honest to our hearts and allow ourselves to go to that place, we doubt and we wonder if we’re backing the wrong horse—the wrong church or the wrong faith or perhaps, any faith at all.
This time of year accentuates this conflict. We all desire the joy and celebration of Christmas and we use our traditions to make sure it happens—we make plans, we decorate, we bake, we string lights, and then we wait, playing our familiar music sung by our familiar artists to bring along that familiar feeling. It usually comes. We know that it works, right? It worked before. It has worked for years. Will it now?
What Did You Go to See?
We, like John, wonder. We doubt. And Jesus isn’t offended. He says simply look at my works.
The reason John is so down is obvious—(1) he’s in prison, (2) Jesus hasn’t done what John expected him to, (3) the Kingdom he was proclaiming is looking nothing like he imagined, and (4) the evil still seems to be in control.
Jesus’s answer to the doubt and frustration of John is to help him hear and see the wilderness again. Show him how the blind see and tell him of how the deaf hear. Witness to the dead as raised and the poor as rich in spirit. The kingdom is here!
Jesus also turns to the crowd and asks them “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” Those words begin so active (“go out into the wilderness”) then turn so passive (“to look at”). What got you off your butts to stand on the sidelines? What did you go out to observe?
Did you go out to watch one man’s stand against an empire? One boy staring down a tank?
Did you go out expecting a wealthy leader to replace your wealthy leader? A violent revolutionary to replace a violent tyrant?
Did you go out expecting to hear words that challenge the powerful? Out there was more than words! John was preparing The Way—the Kingdom Come.
Sharing in the Kingdom
Jesus is not only saying, but showing the kingdom of heaven is near or perhaps in Him, here. It is more than the words of belief and declarations of participation that Jesus is speaking to, but the acts. He helps John to know what he doubts. He bears witness to the healing and the reconciling of the world.
And that question Jesus asks should be ours: What did you come here to see? We with our eyes to see and our ears to hear, What did we come to see? Was it simply a prophet, a herald, proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah?
No. Not in our hearts anyway. We came, not for the prophet, but the Christ. The one who changed, will change, is changing the world. The one whose power rejects our power and embraces our weakness. The one whose love surpasses our understanding of what love can be. The one whose greatness can only be seen in the kingdom of heaven.
We come to find GOD in Christ and we are challenged to see that in one another, not in our strength, but in our mutual weakness.
May we share love like that. May we know love like that. And in this season of Advent, may we share the wild technicolor love of the Christ with everyone.