Third Sunday in Advent, Year A.
John began his ministry as we saw last week with a very clear idea about where he sat, where he fitted within the broad spectrum of Jewish life and indeed of what we call salvation history. His sense that like Elijah that he clearly knew the kind of model to follow.
Elijah came at a particular point when Israel faced such darkness. There was a king who had really given his heart over to the worship of the foreign gods – the worship of the Ba’als. And Elijah needed to be very strong and to preach a very simple and clear message of condemnation and judgement – that God was a God of justice, a God who would speak the truth, in season and out, and he would announce this with such clarity that no one could doubt what God was about.
Elijah continued to do that. He had his doubts. He had his concerns. There were moments when he faltered in that call. He fled away when Jezebel set out to attack him. John seems to be in that same way; someone who is so clear about what God is about.
Look, this is very simple. We’ve all met people like that. People who know very clearly what it is that God wants. What it is that the church teaches. The way that we need to live our lives in order to please God. But then Jesus comes and he doesn’t seem to fit within the mold of the Messiah that John is expecting, that others at the time are expecting. He’s not preaching condemnation. He’s not issuing decrees that are about judgement; about the whole sense that you will be judged and you will go to this place (‘hell’). He’s about compassion. Just before us in the last few chapters in the Gospel of Matthew, he’s healed all kinds of people. He’s driven out demons. He’s been able to minister to those who are most desperate.
Currently in need but above all he’s been this voice of compassion and this seems to be enough to de-stabilise John. Remember that John is here in prison. We hear about that in Matthew chapter four: that he’s thrown into prison because he has that hard-nosed preaching that he’s so adamant about. And he’s telling off the rulers at the time and saying no – you can’t marry another man’s wife. You must be faithful to your wife. So there is John in prison and there seems to be this confusion that begins to enter into his life.
We’ve seen it so often in our world. You know we get those divisions. We get those distinctions within our church people as I said, who are so clear? About what it is that God is? Doing and yet John isn’t quite sure anymore. He knows that Jesus is a good person. He knows that he’s doing these wonderful things, but he doesn’t seem to be doing the things that he expects him to be doing, and how often have we felt that same question in our hearts.
How often have we pondered and wondered? You know God – what are you doing in this situation? You’ve got a friend who’s dying with cancer and you’re praying madly and interceding that God will heal them. It doesn’t seem to happen. You are like, surely you’re about compassion. Surely you’re about bringing that justice. Surely you’re about bringing that healing into that person’s life.
Other situations: there might be a moral issue that you’re deeply passionate about, and you’re sure that God is on your side. It doesn’t seem to be something that other people are good and faithful, and they don’t seem as driven as you are. You can kind of wonder well what is all this about? What is really going on here? And Jesus provides an answer of sorts. He points back to. What we heard in our first reading and the Prophet Isaiah, Chapter 35, he points out that there’s signs of the Messiah too, not just raising an army, not just conquering those who are oppressing you, not just overthrowing the regime that happens to be in power at the time that Jesus is pointing to the most subtle manifestations of God’s glory.
Those places where the mercy of God is able to bring about the healing, but John doesn’t well. But people that come in the name of John don’t seem to be all that satisfied. So Jesus continues to kind of ponder upon that and part. It gives us. Validity in asking these questions, not having to know with certainty and clarity what it’s. All about, at any given moment, it’s okay to question. It’s okay to have doubts it’s OK to kind of struggle with these things and Matthew as he formulates. This doesn’t provide a simple and clear answer.
He doesn’t supply an editorial comment to give us a clear idea, but he does frame it in such a way that. The whole of his gospel is able to answer that question the whole of his gospel. That reminds us that. Well, who is? Jesus, he is the God who is with us, the God who will journey with us. And remember when Matthew writes his gospel, the temple and the City of Jerusalem has just been completely demolished and destroyed by the Romans. The church is suffering. The people are trying to make sense.
Well, how do we form ourselves? How do we shape our lives in the midst of so much that is changing, and he’s inviting us to be like the people were with Moses when he led them through the wilderness to go, and to trust gently, that the God who will lead us with the column of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day that God will continue to lead us.
As well, not from a distance, but the “God who is with us,” the God who walks alongside us, the God who is there inviting us into those questions, inviting us to ponder, inviting us to have faith, inviting us in the moments of change to see that he is with us, and that he will continue to be with us. There aren’t simple answers to the questions that we ponder, but he will be with us.
He will continue to guide us. He will continue to gently whisper the love of God into our lives. He will continue to invite us more deeply into faith. He will challenge us. To look at different ways that the presence of God might be revealed and manifested. It’s not just the one way that we knew when we were children. As we grow up as we get older, we need to consider and ponder new ways that God is revealing himself new ways that God is revealed with within us and around us.
This Season of Advent is not a simple season. Navigate because it does require us to ponder anew, to struggle with the questions that that John brings to us tonight. But somewhere in the midst of that, to remember that the with us God will continue to walk with us. The with us God will continue to encourage us. The with us God will continue to invite us more deeply into seeing the way that God works around us and among us. It’s not the simple way.
But in these beautiful and profound ways that God continues to stir us and invite us more deeply into that act of faith to trust in him, to surrender our hearts, to him, to give ourselves to him. Because he’s the only one that can provide that satisfaction. He’s the only one that can heal our sins. He’s the only one that can. Call us more deeply into life, so indeed. Let’s be people that ponder these questions that take these questions to heart. Not afraid of them, but knowing that our God is big enough to sit with these.
God is big enough to allow these questions is big enough to receive whatever challenges whatever struggles we might have that God will journey. With us and invite us as a community as a church to continue to find life and hope within our God and within the life that we find with each other. As we continue to surrender our hearts and to give ourselves to the God who is inviting us more deeply into life and into joy.
- First Reading ‡ Isaiah 35:1-6.10
God himself will come and save us.
- Responsorial ‡ Psalm 145:6-10
Lord, come and save us.
- Second Reading ‡ James 5:7-10
You also must be patient; do not lose heart, the Lord’s coming will be soon.
- Gospel ‡ Matthew 11:2-11
Are you the one who is to come, or must we wait for someone else?