Have you ever wondered why there is so much talk about John the Baptist during the Advent season? John the Baptist is the last of the old Testament prophets, but he was also a waymaker for Jesus. John was a sign that the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets were being fulfilled: The Savior was soon to come.
The word Advent means waiting, and the purpose of this waiting period is to prepare us for the birth of Jesus.
At Christmas, we celebrate that God became human as a baby, but the texts of the Advent season urge us to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus as well. The Bible urges us to stay alert and be prepared.
Indeed, John the Baptist exhorts us to repent. He asks if there is room for Jesus in our hearts and lives. This is much more important in preparing for Christmas than whether the Christmas Cards have been sent or the home has been thoroughly cleaned or whether Christmas gift purchases have been made early.
How does John the Baptist – called St John the Forerunner in the Orthodox Church – urge you to pave the way for Jesus in your life? You know that Advent – and a life of faith – begins when we agree to take Jesus as our guide.
The Paradox of Advent is that we are waiting or Him who has already come. He who we are waiting for to come back in the future is already here, doing his work now and fulfilling prophecies from the past. Advent includes the past, present, and the future.
Clear the Way for Jesus…
In the Gospel reading for the day (Matthew 11:2-10) John the Baptist is in prison where he had been rebuked by King Herod for taking his brother Philip’s Wife, Herodias, for himself. In prison, John began to doubt Jesus that is the Messiah, even though he had previously been absolutely certain of his mission to pave the way for Jesus. Therefore, his question comes as bit of s surprise to use, on the other hand, it is easy for us to identify with Johns’ doubts. For what things would you like confirmation? What kind of prison or impasse are you in?
We must admire John. He approaches Jesus directly with his questions and doubts. When we have a problem with Jesus, what do we do? Are we talking to Jesus directly? Or do we turn our backs on God and get bitter? John’s task had been to prepare the hearts of the people for the Messiah, but as a prisoner he could no longer do so. Maybe that’s why he started to doubt. If Jesus really was the Messaiah, how could that have happened`? God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, so it is good for us to trust God to know what is best for us.
Jesus did not come into the world to continue John’s proclamation of the impending judgment of God, but he came to proclaim that the kingdom of God was at hand. Nor did Jesus live ascetically as John did. And Jesus did not appear as the conquering king, as the Jewish independence activists would have liked, but represented sacrificing love. There are all things that may have confused John, perhaps that is why he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one to come.
…for He is Messiah
So how did Jesus react to this? Jesus did not answer John directly no or yes, but asked to tell John a message full of quotes from the Messianic prophecies of the book of Isaiah. Jesus had already been performing these signs of Messiah. In the light of the evidence, the messianic nature of Jesus was evident. The signs of the time of salvation were realized in the action of Christ. Even today, in the Word and the sacraments, he comes again and again with the gifts of salvation.
Jesus does not proclaim himself but the kingdom of God. He did not come to gain wordly authority, but he came to serve, to give us access to eternal life. Jesus came to show us a new path. And not just to show, but to reveal that he himself is the way.
Jesus’ response challenged John to broaden his view, to understand a very different Messiah that what John had expected to come. Indeed, Jesus did not bring immediate judgment to those in power, it will only happen at the second coming of Jesus. Jesus does not function according to our presumptions or expectations. His plan of salvation is much finer and broader than the Jews could have expected. And that’s probably the case with us. We can never imagine how great things God has designed for each of us.
Jesus didn’t meet Joh’s Messianic expectations, but John did not allow it to become an obstacle to communion. What about us? Will we lose hope, will we abandon faith if our expectations are not met? Just like crowd who, on Palm Sunday, cheer Jesus entering Jeruslem and just a few days later shouted “crucify!” when Jesus did not live up to their Messianic expectations.
How do we receive the Messiah? Is Jesus “the One who is to come” to us, or do we continue to search to find something, someone that better meets our expectations? After all, people do this a lot these days, they take from different religions what suits them and construct their own god. But this is exactly what the Word of God warns us about. We are called to repent and receive Jesus as He is.
Is Jesus the Messiah we can live with? Do we like God, who calls us to repentance? Do we like the fact that God gives all workers the same pay no matter how many hours why have worked? Would we like to have a better position, more praise or maybe we would like to earn our salvation? Can we live with the Messiah, how offers salvation to all by faith alone, by grace alone, for Christ alone?
Jesus could have scolded John for doubting. Instead, Jesus blessed him. He offers a blessing not only to John but to also to all who do not reject him. Jesus blesses us as we remain faithful in prayer, even though it might seem that they will not be answered right now.
… your Redeemer
Faith is not needed when everything goes the way we want. But faith is needed precisely when the answer is delayed. Hopefully, neither will we allow unanswered prayers or unmet expectations become barriers to communion. For this connection with Jesus is far more precious than the fulfillment of any wish.
After answering John’s question, Jesus began to talk about perople’s perceptions of John. Jesus confirmed John’s calling by quoting the prophecies of the book of Malachi. John was different from the other prophets because he both fulfilled prophecies and prophesied.
John doubted, but still Jesus praised him. John had not yet realized at this point that Jesus did not come to meet our worldly expectations of the Messiah, but he came to meet our needs. Our need to have our sins forgive and reconnect with our Heavenly Father. This is exactly what Jesus made possible.
Come, Lord Jesus!
John’s question “are you the One to come” is a question we all ask sometime. What do we think of Jesus? Is he the Messaiah for us too? If not, how could we become more open to receive him in such a way that he could be God with us? Because that’s what Christianity is all about. That Jesus will become real in our lives. And that Jesus is our Messiah, our Savior.
According to Luther, when we pray “Thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that it come true for us as well. Luther also said that it is not enough for us to teach about the actions, life, and words of Christ as historical facts. We must speak and teach about Christ so that Christ will become Christ to you and to me.
The season of Advent prepares us for Christ to truly become Christ for you and me. As a wise teacher, Jesus will not save anyone. But Jesus as the risen Christ will save everyone who believes in him, who does not reject him.
Be our King!
Therefore, it is good to consider whether the Good News of God can really take root in us so we can bear good fruit. Or do we always turn away from God when things don’t happen the way we would like them to?
Jesus will not come with force, but He will deliver us from our prisons, be they prisons of fear, bitterness, unbelief, jealousy, greed, worry, sorrow, selfishness, or sin. No one or anyone else can free you from there, but Jesus can and he wants to do that.
So, can Jesus be your Messiah, your Savior? I hope so. Stop hiding your wounds or dreams, but bring them to Jesus. Because only he can break your shackles and fill you with peace and hope. Only Jesus can turn evil into good, evil to good, anger to love, darkness into light. And only Jesus can offer eternal life to all who do not reject him. So we have what to wait for. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen
This was my sermon this past Sunday (The third Sunday of Advent) in Ulvila. I hope it blesses you and can urge you to clear the Way to Jesus in your life.