Notes For the Message based on Matt 11:2-11; “A”–Advent 3

 

Readings for the coming Sunday are: Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 1:47-55; James 5:7-10; Matt 11:2-11

You can read these readings here:  NIV  //   NRSV  // The Message

 

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Have you ever expected something to be a certain way but when it came down to it, you discovered that it was not? Most of our disappointments stem from a discovery that something is not the way we expected it to be.

 

Today we heard that John was in prison; from secular history we know that he was facing a gruesome execution. I think it is safe to say that at this point in his life John the Baptist knew a little something about disappointment. It is during such difficult periods of our lives that we ask ourselves tough questions. It is during such difficult periods of our lives that we look back at our lives and try to make sense of what is happening to us and why. It is not hard to imagine that during this trying period of John’s life, doubts about his chosen vocation crept into his mind. It is kind of ironic because John the Baptist was so tireless in proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah throughout his ministry.

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John the Baptist was the one who preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near… prepare ye the way of the Lord… produce fruit in keeping with repentance: (Matt 3:3,8). This message burned in John’s soul. John preached this message to the crowds “from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan” (Matt 3:5)… John wasn’t afraid to proclaim his message to commoners, religious leaders and royalty alike. He was in jail because of that fearlessness; saying the wrong word in the wrong company OR at the wrong time will do it every time. King Herod saw John’s ministry as subversive and destabilizing to his own power.

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Much has happened to John since we last saw him preaching and baptizing people in the wilderness, and in today’s reading we find an emotionally broken riddled with doubts man, locked up behind bars in Herod’s prison.

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It is evident that John was wondering whether his ministry had been focused on trivialities. He was wondering if he had wasted his life. As he dealt with his human emotions of desperation, frustration, and anxiety, John sent a messenger to ask Jesus a question, "Are you the one?" What he was really asking was, “Did I waste my life for nothing?”

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Matthew makes it clear that Jesus did not respond with a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead Jesus said something like, "Go and tell John to look around: 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. Blessed are men and women who do not fall away because of their misconceptions of who I am. Blessed are those who accept me for who I am, without falling for 2-good-2-b-true mumbo-jumbo."

 

John was expecting spectacular things from Jesus. John expected miraculous transformation from the Messiah who was going to restore justice in the world. John was looking forward to the world where there is no poverty, sickness, or death; where car batteries don’t go dead, where there are no tragic mishaps and accidents. John was looking forward to the world where there is enough money to pay the heating bill AND put food on the table, the world where we don’t get ourselves in a mess and everything goes according to plan. Usually OUR plan. Restorations of sight, health, and life seemed a little too mundane.

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Somebody has to state the obvious: we are not all that different. In our collective imagination we have cornered God with limitations and expectations that allow us to do what we want and when we want it, expecting that sometime in the future God will fix everything according to OUR plan. We learned to justify our actions and camouflage our real motives with sentimentality and spiritually sounding words.

 

We have learned to ignore God’s work in the ordinary areas of our lives. Each week we come to church, we hear the Scriptures read and preached, we sing the hymns and we say the prayers. Many of us limit our experience of God to these few hours.

 

Most of us are too scared to imagine that God is working 24/7/365 through us in the course of our interactions at home, at work, at school and everywhere else. We have a hard time imagining that God uses us in our various roles as employees, parents, spouses, friends, citizens, neighbors, and volunteers. We do not want the responsibility of extending God’s love, blessing, and steadfast care to all creation. That is why it is so hard for us to see God at work outside of the church.

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In 2007 an experiment was conducted by The Washington Post. They took a world renowned violinist, stood him near a trash can in L’Enfant Plaza metro station in Washington, DC and asked him to play classical music during rush hour. (Here is the link to the article).

 

The whole performance was captured on security cameras and analyzed. The overwhelming majority of commuters (over 1000 of them) did not even glance at the performer, let alone stop to listen. Very few (less than a dozen) threw a couple of bills into the violin case of the street performer. No big deal, just an ordinary day on the Metro.

 

The violinist was one of the finest classical violinists in the world, Joshua Bell (see link here and here),  playing his multi-million dollar Stradivarius. The same Joshua Bell who packs concert halls with people paying $100/seat (for the cheap seats) to hear him play the same pieces he played at the Metro.

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People ignored Joshua Bell, because we are pre-conditioned to ignore great music outside of a concert hall. People ignored Joshua Bell because we are pre-conditioned to ignore beauty outside the context where we expect to encounter beauty. Just like that, we have been pre-conditioned to ignore God outside the context of where we expect to find God.

 

That is why it is so hard for us to detect God outside the walls of the church where there are no stained-glass windows and organ music.

 

Our challenge is to allow ourselves to see God at work in the commonplace of our ordinary lives so that when we come to church every Sunday we are so eager that we cannot wait to share the great things that God has done in our lives in the past week.

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The story of Advent is the story that is told by Isaiah, John the Baptist, countless other prophets, evangelists and Christians like you and I whose lives testify to the renewal and unfolding joy. The story of Advent is the story that our lives are telling as we dealing with our day to day lives, being bearers of God’s presence in the world around us, bringing the message that all things are possible in our lives when God is welcomed in our lives.

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