Week Three, Advent Series 2017 Ordinary Hope Matthew 11:2-11
I was riding along not so long ago... in my car... minding my own business... when I noticed a sticker on the bumper of the car in front of me that read: “Don’t Follow Me... I’m lost, too!”
I like that! It’s how I feel most of the time.
Well, I was reading this past week about a different bumper sticker that was quite popular several years ago... it simply read, “I Found It.”
I don’t know who designed it... who came up with the concept... or where it’s gone, but “I Found It” was on a lot of bumpers. I do know that it was intended to be a statement of faith, a declaration of identity, a witness for the gospel.
I couldn’t help but imagine driving behind someone one day whose bumper displayed the “I Found It” sticker on one side, and on the other side: “Don’t follow me - I’m lost, too!”
Just last week, in our Lesson, we heard John the Baptist proclaiming pretty powerfully “I Found It!” as he declared with total clarity and conviction: “The Messiah is coming... The mountains will be leveled... the valleys raised up... the crooked places made straight... the rough places plain... Repent and believe.”
But John’s life had changed a lot since then. In our Lesson for today... John found himself in prison... And instead of an exclamation... John’s voice has become more of a question: “Is this Messiah the same One that I preached about in the wilderness? Is Jesus the One who will lower mountains and raise up valleys? Is this Messiah really the One, or should we wait for another?”
All of a sudden... it seems... the bold proclaimer of the faith... the outspoken preacher who didn’t mind getting up in the faces of those who needed to hear God’s Word... was showing some vulnerability. Some weakness... some human-ness.
Like I imagined: the driver who so proudly displayed the “I FOUND IT” bumper sticker has added to the opposite side: “DON’T FOLLOW ME - I’M LOST, TOO.”
Are you really the One?
Maybe John became disillusioned because this wasn’t his first rodeo! I’m sure Jesus wasn’t the first so called “Messiah” to cross paths with John (and he certainly wasn’t the first to enter Jerusalem)... promising to make things better... promising to change the condition of God’s people... I’m sure John had gotten his hopes up before, only to be disappointed.
So I can understand... at least to some degree... the frustration and disappointment John must have felt, and so can you. IF your hopes have ever been dashed... if your dreams have ever been trampled... if your expectations have ever fallen short... way short... then you can appreciate John’s predicament.
I know... from personal experience... how jaded and hard-hearted you can become when people take advantage of your emotions and your kindness. AND anytime you trust someone... you depend on someone... you love and devote yourself to another person... When that doesn’t work out, or falls apart and unravels... you’re often left with feelings of inadequacy and rejection and hurt... and you begin to question things! So, maybe it was John’s “experience” that caused him to question...
Of course, it could have been that John was discouraged in his faith. After all, remember where he was... he was in prison. And he found himself there... NOT because he did anything wrong... but because he did the right thing: stood up to a corrupt king... confronting him about a inappropriate relationship. So maybe John’s “condition” is what made him question...
Maybe John simply had different expectations for the Messiah... expectations Jesus failed to meet. Maybe John, like so many others, expected Jesus to be the great King who’d march into Jerusalem with a mighty army, imposing his will on the powerful while liberating the poor and the oppressed. Maybe it was John’s “expectations” that made him question...
Or maybe, John was wondering, from the loneliness of his prison cell, why Jesus hadn’t liberated HIM. After all, it’s not fair, it’s not right, to suffer for doing the right thing! So maybe it was John’s sense of “fairness” that caused his to question...
Regardless... from that prison cell, John sent his disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or [should we] wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3).
Of course, Jesus responded by saying, “Go and tell John what you’ve heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the poor have received good news” (see vv. 4-5).
That’s an incredibly interesting response from Jesus! Notice that there’s nothing in that litany of reminders of which John was not already aware? Everything Jesus reminded him about was already common knowledge... the kind of things John would already known.
It’s like Jesus was saying, “What you see going on around you... ordinary things... familiar things... loving-God-and-neighbor things... these are the signs that the Messiah has come.” No razzle-dazzle, no rending of the veil, no prophetic ecstasies, no angelic visions are necessary... just the ordinary, on-going work of participating in the kingdom of God through faith, words and deeds.
Years before followers of Christ were called “Christians” - they were called followers of “The Way.” That’s significant... because “The Way” tends to imply a lifestyle... a way of living life... everyday life.
“The Way” was never intended to be an escape from the world, or a path to supercede or transcend the troubles of the world... but rather “The Way” was, and is, a calling that engages every aspect of life in the living-out of the Christian Faith... including the ordinary... simple... everyday things of life.
And most of the time, the simple ordinary things of life, are the grandest signs that Christ has come.
Whenever you and I see the unlovable being loved... when the unforgivable find forgiveness... when we touch the untouchable... when we share with the poor... when we care for the sick... when we offer the Good News... we find that Christ has come.
And by simply acknowledging such truth... and participating in such ordinary things, is how you and I welcome Christ this Christmas... and every single day of our lives.
You and I, like John’s disciples - are free to ask our questions, regardless the reason... BUT then we’re called to go and tell John, and everyone else, that hope’s not found in politics... it’s not found in armies... it’s not found Santa Claus, or in the voices of 10,000 angels.
Hope has come, and is found, in an ordinary baby, lying in a feeding trough in a cattle stall... Hope has come, in Jesus...