Sermon – December 15, 2013 – Third Sunday of Advent

Brian Barnhart came to speak at our Rotary last week. Brian is the voice of the Fighting Illini basketball and football games. If you’ve ever listened to them on the radio he is the lead commentator and play-by-play announcer. He’s been doing games around here for over a decade, so tens of thousands maybe hundreds of thousands of people have heard him and identify him as the voice of the Illin.

He was giving us a sort of summary of what it looks like to be a play-by-play announcer at a Big Ten university, and one of the things he spoke all that is meeting with the public. You remember he’s on the radio, so he says it is a common experience to surprise people he meets in person. For example some people say to him, “I’ve been listening to you for years and I thought you were much older”. Some would say the opposite I thought you were much younger. Some thought maybe he looked a bit like Loren Tate,. He said the strangest one was one disappointed fan who met him and said, “listening to you on the radio, I expected you to be much taller.” Most of the time, Barnhart says, he is not who people expect him to be.

That may be our own experience as we come to a greater understanding of who Jesus Christ is. As we began to hear in more depth and breadth stories and reflections on his ministry. Unsure if this is the one to come. Lord knows, across the years, people have been bewildered by a God who would come in human form to share in our lives.

This is not unprecedented. In our Gospel story about John the Baptist today we find that John is uncertain. “Are you the one to come or shall we look for another?”

John either doesn’t understand or doesn’t like what he hears.

Couple of things. The first is personal . . . .John . . . the Baptizer . . . . the messenger. . . . the new Elijah. . . . the fiery prophet. . . .the one whose birth and vocation was proclaimed by angels. . . . John . . who had his own band of followers. . . .John . . . . . the prophet who confirms the prophecy of Isaiah that the would be a message bearer. . . .whose life and witness would prepare the way for the coming of Messiah . . . this John . . .was captive, imprisoned. . . taken off the street. . . under the thumb and power of the occupiers. . . the authorities. Are you the one to come or shall we look for another. . . .what about me? . . . .is this my reward? . . . . Is this loyalty? . . . are you not my liberator, too? Cousin. Jesus?? Or did I get this wrong?

Secondly, Maybe John was not a patient man . . . for the people of Israel were still under Roman occupation, he was in prison . . . and it did not appear that the revolutionary militia was coalescing. . . Maybe that was it.

Maybe his hopes were for a different man, a different agenda. . . .

There he sat, no crowds, no platform, suffering in silence . . . hearing of the ministry of the one whose coming he proclaimed. What were the deeds the John was hear about that concerned or confuse him? This Jesus preached from mountain, ‘blessed are the poor, and the mourning and the meek, and those who hunger for righteousness. . . blessed are those who make peace . . . blessed are those who are persecuted . . . turn the other cheek . . . give to everyone who begs . . . love your enemies . . . do unto others, He consorted with the outcast and the downtrodden, and it was not what John had expected. . . . “Are you the one to come, or are we to wait for another?” Have I made a mistake? Did I get this wrong? Did I miss it?

John had his doubts. His life, his ministry, his mission had turned to imprisonment and it shook him. John and others had expected that the sword of the King of David would come among the people and overthrow the Roman government and restore the people. . . . instead they get the one preaching redemption and forgiveness and love and peace.. . . . are you the one to come or are we to wait for another?

Jesus wasn’t who John expected him to be. So, Jesus said, send word to John that the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, speak to him of the promise fulfilled, the lame walk, the blind see, the unclean are made clean . . . the poor hear good news. I am the one, John. This is who I am and why I’ve come. And blessed are those who do not take offense at that.

His faith had faltered in misunderstanding because this Jesus was not who he expected.

John expected the transformation of nations, Jesus came restoring one broken heart at a time showing each person is important in the eyes of God, that the kingdom of God dwells in hearts and not nations.

Are you the one, or shall we wait for another? How often has our faith faltered because Jesus is who he is and not who we want him to be? How often does our faith stumble over the notion that we are to love all people? How often does our faith falter that even he or she or you are worthy of forgiveness? How often does our faith falter over the discovery that God’s mercy exceeds our expectations or limits. “O God, I can’t love those people.” How often does our faith falter in our struggle with the truth that greatness, worthiness, a place in the kingdom is determined by the magnitude of God’s love and mercy . . and not by the narrowness of our understanding or the limitations of our tolerance?

Jesus came into the world bearing a tremendous message that all people are children of God, that all people are worthy, and, graciously, that our impatience and grand ideas of how God ought to run the place will not blunt the urgency of this message or turn him from us.

John was an impatient prophet who wanted quicker results. . . . but we know that faith grows and is nurtured in patience, as James writes this morning. In our impatience, we cry out, Is this the one to come, or should we wait for another? Did we get it right?

The important thing is that God got it right, through this Jesus who meets our doubts and struggles with the dogged authenticity of his love, who comes so innocently in the manger. . so that we know that nothing can stand between us and God’s love, not our limited vision or our flawed expectations, nothing can stand in the way of God’s love expressed in the purest form, this baby in the manger. . This baby who came so innocently in a manger challenges Christian people. He surely loves us, lifts us up, saves and redeems us but challenges us to listen to the whole story, the need for sacrifice and struggle for faith, the call of Christ to love, the passion of Christ for healing and restoration. The call for the sacrifice of our patience as his purpose is revealed in our life.. Challenges us to see that the advent of Christ’s coming is only the beginning . Challenges us to be alert to the whole message and purpose of God in this time, in the midst of this moment. If we rush off babbling away in our misunderstanding, demanding the resolution to a problem or circumstance on our own terms an in our own time, might we not risk the completion of our own healing, the fulfillment of our own hopes, and those of another?

Jesus takes seriously our question, Are you the one? And his answer is Yes! “Yes!” to you whose souls are as dry as the desert. You shall be refreshed “Yes” to you whose hearts are broken. I will heal you may love and love again. “Yes!” to you whose knees are buckling from the burdens you bear. You will be strengthened. “Yes!” to you who who are blind to the truth and cannot see. Your eyes will be opened in faith to see the love and the joy that awaits you. “Yes!” to you who are strangers in the land. You have found a home. “Yes!” to you who are orphaned by your families and communities. You are now my child. “Yes!” to you who through fear or anger or misunderstanding cannot speak and cannot hear. I will free you. “Yes!” to you in those moments when your hearts are full of doubt. You need not look for another.

“Yes!” to one heart, one life at a time until the world is healed.

He is the one to come and who has come so that we would know the true heart of the God, who gives his only Son for our sake..

God got it right. He is the one to come. Be patient. Listen. And we will hear the true message of this season and we will know the true power of Christ’s love. It’s worth the wait.

Amen