Third Sunday of Advent Lectionary Reflection
December 12, 2010
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Matthew 11:2-3
Think about it. Here’s John, the bold prophet who pointed to Jesus as the One, who called for repentance and baptized many, and who now sits in Herod’s prison. It must have been lonely, dirty, dank and difficult being imprisoned in first century Judea. There were no televisions, exercise yards, and classes offered. What was available to John was time–time to think, time to ponder, time to second-guess, and time to doubt. Was Jesus the One? Was he the real thing? Had John been right, or had his work been in vain?
Doubt is nothing new; it is as old as human history. Even the most faithful disciples have experienced their dark nights of the soul and their seasons of doubt. I think about Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, Thomas, and so many other pillars of faith who wrestled with doubt, lived with it, expressed it, and yet did not let it consume them. As Frederick Buechner said in his book Wishful Thinking, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”
John the Baptist did not choose to wallow in his doubt or let it sour and disillusion him, at least not according to Matthew’s account. He sent word by his disciples to Jesus and asked him directly. The answer he received is as clear as a kindergartner’s show and tell experience. “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” (11:4-5). Jesus meets John’s questioning and doubt directly. There are no heavy theological treatises or condemnation of his doubt handed down. Not at all! Jesus provides the answer through the witness of his disciples.
During this season of waiting, anticipation, and expectation we should remember that not everyone shares our enthusiasm for Christmas, much less Advent. There are many who doubt, many who do not believe. Why any rational person could believe a tiny, helpless infant could be savior of the world is beyond them. In their eyes Santa Claus has more credibility than Jesus Christ. How can they know if no one tells them? How can they see if no one shows them?
It is so easy to keep our focus within the sanctuary walls as we light our candles, sing beloved hymns, hang the greens and the Chrismons on the tree, and practice those traditions which we hold near and dear while the world outside our hallowed walls swirls on, filled with despair and disbelief, stumbling in the darkness. The call to us is the same as it was to John, to the recipients of James’s letter, and to the weary people to whom the prophet Isaiah described God’s coming among us. We are to be agents of this advent, stewards of this good news, and active participants in ushering in God’s righteous reign.
We are charged with telling the world that something new is happening, just as the prophet did so long ago. “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God” (Isaiah 35:3-4a). These words are for our time, too.
Yes, the season calls for us to wait in joyful expectation; of that there is no doubt. Yet that waiting and watching and looking is not to be static. We are called to go into the world, strengthened by the Word, bread, and wine, to tell all people that Jesus comes, that hope abounds, and that there is a place at the table and in the community just for them. Even as we wait, salvation breaks in around us, and God is active in the world. What good news! Go and tell; better yet, go and show and tell.