The Gospel for the Third Sunday in Advent
St. Matthew xi. 2.
NOW when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
|Early 19th Century Icon enthroned at St. Simeon Skete, Taylorsville, Kentucky|
As we prepare for Christmas, today’s Gospel seems out of place - seeing that John is in prison and Jesus is an adult. John is waiting to be executed. He is in pain, suffering. He is the man who recognized his savior from the womb. Later as John Baptized Jesus, the Heavens open up, he heard God exclaim his pleasure in His Son and he witnessed the Holy Spirit descending, leading into the desert. And yet, he now sends his disciples to ask “Are you the one?” Our troubles touch us, sometimes pain is so great it leads us to questions for which only Jesus is the answer. A great answer doesn’t necessarily get you out of the question, the journey, or the pain but sends you back into it all to find Jesus to be that answer. We must stay in the pain long enough to answer the questions that the pain is asking. Make sure the answer is NOT a way of getting out of the pain (running away, denying, buying new shoes or taking a happy pill) but a real answer. I can always tell more about a person by the questions they ask rather than the answers they give. John was asking good questions that demanded only one answer: Jesus.
Much of our religion these days leads us to living a prophylactic existence; preventing us from ever becoming pregnant with life and infected with what it brings - sorrows and difficulties. They are a part of life. Our purity must not be the result of NOT being touched by our troubles. “In the world you will have troubles”. That’s the truth. Yet we hear so much from the world that uses belief in God as a shield from difficulty. They hold that being with God means no loneliness, no hassles, no suffering. I remember a lady years ago storming off after a sermon in which we were lead to examine ourselves. The woman shouted as she left, “I don’t come to church to be instructed or made to critique my life. I come to church to feel good, be happy and be comforted.” Before you can be comforted you first have to be confronted. John suffered, Jesus suffered, they had troubles and so do we. I remember seeing the hand-written sign in a hermitage “Pain is the Kiss of Christ”. God is in our pain with us, therefore, you might say our sorrows are a sign of the presence of God. We are not alone.
John sits confined in prison, alone, waiting to be executed. His question really has three parts.
- Are you the one? (see also NHA Blog "Are you the one?")
- Is it real?
- Is it enough?
And Jesus answers “Yes, Yes, Yes” He is the one, He is real and He is enough.