Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
December 15, 2019 ● Year A/Advent III
Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11
Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, December 15, 2019
When I was a child I would ask my mother for permission to do something that I knew she would not allow. I would often ask her to buy me something really cool and totally outrageous. Even though I knew what she was going to say, I just needed to be sure that “no” was her final answer and that she, in fact, did not want to make me the happiest kid on earth. With neither the desire, nor the patience, to engage in my questioning my mother would simply look at me and say, “Why are you asking me this question when you already know the answer?”
In this week’s Gospel, John, the Baptizer, had heard about the miraculous works of the Messiah, Jesus. John was in prison, yet these testimonies found their way beyond the walls to an imprisoned man. While there was little doubt that Jesus was performing healings John had no way to witness them for himself or to hear the good news that Jesus was bringing to the poor. If Jesus was the Messiah who had come to oppose the Roman empire, the system under which John himself was imprisoned, John had no way of verifying it. After all, he had not been freed. One might understand why he was compelled to send forth his disciples to go straight to the source, to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Was John’s question one of sincere doubt about the identity of Jesus, or was he asking a question for which he already knew the answer? Perhaps he just needed a little bit more assurance of the hope that the Messiah had come and that he should wait patiently for him, even as he sat isolated in his prison cell.
This question may make us a bit uneasy when we consider the source of the question. Is John not the person, who boldly proclaimed to the people of Judea in the wilderness “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”? Is this not the man who said with full assurance that there would be another, more powerful than he, who would baptize the people with the Holy Spirit and fire? Is this not the man who baptized Jesus saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
I am drawn to the passage in Luke’s Gospel that tells of the unborn child who leaped inside Elizabeth’s womb at the very sound of Mary’s greeting as she carried the Christ child in her womb. Is this not the man, who even in the womb had an awareness of the divine presence that had come near to him?
I suspect that this questioning of Jesus’ identity as the promised Messiah may make us feel uneasy because it hits too close to home for many of us. What more did John need to be convinced that there was no other person coming after Jesus for whom he should wait? If John still needed assurance that Jesus was the Messiah, even after having experienced him physically present before him, how much more assurance do we need when, for us, Jesus is physically absent?
We who have been baptized into the death of Christ with the promise of joining in a resurrection like his; who faithfully gather in community to worship God in Jesus’ name; we who are sent out into the world, by virtue of our Baptism, to proclaim the Good News of Christ Jesus; we breathe a collective sigh of relief when John sends his question to Jesus, asking what we dare not speak aloud, “Jesus, are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
We might even empathize with John’s seeming struggle with the identity of Jesus, the Messiah because, we like John, may wrestle with our belief that the eternal living Word of God, Jesus Christ, is always with us, even as he is physically absent. John’s reality was that he was sitting in a prison cell with Jesus, the Messiah, nowhere in sight. Consider how we, too, are often held captive by our self-imposed prisons, or those prisons imposed upon us, manifested in many ways in this world. We might just be left feeling like our Savior is hidden from us.
Swedish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, in his book, The Sickness Unto Death named the human condition as despair. Despair is a form of suffering. When times are good proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and Savior requires merely our confidence in doing so. But when we suffer from isolation, fear, shame, grief, abandonment and rejection, proclaiming the Gospel requires that we do so from knowledge of our Savior from the depths of our soul, not from the corners of our mind. In our individual and collective human suffering we just might be compelled to cry out to Jesus from our man-made prisons, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jesus responded to John’s disciples by recalling the language of the prophet Isaiah (35:5-6), and said, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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…” (vv. 4-5). Embedded in Jesus’ answer to John’s question was a call to mission. “Go and tell John what you hear and see…” (v.4) John’s disciples were to share their personal testimonies to re-evangelize John the Baptizer himself.
In this “in between” time in which we live, we wait for Christ’s return. As we wait, Jesus has anointed us to be missionaries of the Good News to help hasten the coming of God’s kingdom. When we “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” (BCP, p. 305) we participate in the missio Dei—the Mission of God.
Every time we gather together in this holy place to celebrate the Eucharist we believe that Jesus Christ is really present with us, and in us, as we consume the sacraments of bread and wine. At the altar, we are given the spiritual food that empowers us to take the Gospel from this holy place, out into the world. Go into the places where people live, work and play, and tell them of the Gospel that sets free those who are imprisoned and all who suffer from poverty of spirit.
The Gospel is for all who do not yet know Christ, as well as those who already believe and, from time to time, need a little bit of reminding and assurance. Share your personal testimonies of Emmanuel, God with us. Go and tell of Christ’s saving work to the churched, the un-churched and the de-churched.
On this third Sunday of Advent, we wait, with expectant hope for the coming of Christ into the world. We wait because we know that even in times of feeling helpless, the faithful are never hopeless. We wait because in the presence of the indescribable “otherness” of Jesus, there can be no question about the finality of Christ; only a bold proclamation, “Yes, Jesus, you ARE the one who is to come again, and we wait for no other.” Amen.
 Matt 3:2, NRSV
 Matt 3:14
 Luke 1:41, NRSV