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In His Own Way

Matthew 11: 2-11

The Rev. Jon Roberts

16 December


Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. 9 Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.’ 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

In His Own Way

St. John the Baptist in Prison Visited by Salome, Il Guercino Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666)

God sets us free and heals us, in His own way.

On this third Sunday in Advent, the midway point before Christmas, we hear the words of the Psalmist, “The Lord comes to set the prisoners free. He opens the eyes of the blind; He lifts up those who are bowed down;” What better prophet could God give us this day, “To proclaim this message of healing,” than from the lips of John the Baptist? It has been said that a prophet is one who has the wisdom of God in their minds, the truth of God on their lips, and the love of God in their hearts. John had all three. He had all three at the beginning of his ministry and at the end. Jesus came to him at the Jordan. Humbly, John declared he wasn’t worthy to carry his sandals but Jesus told him to go to the muddy banks and to baptize him. There, John held our Lord and Savior in his arms and lowered him into the water and raised him up. Then he heard God’s voice, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased”; and he saw the Spirit of God descend upon his Son like a dove.

John was in God’s presence holding the most precious gift, just like Mary would on the day he was born in Bethlehem. We think there couldn’t possibly be a better view of God’s glory than that experienced by John with Jesus as an adult, and Mary with Jesus as a baby but sometimes God can be right there in front of us and we still can’t see him as he is. Instead we want to see him, or to show him to others as we see fit. John charged the hundreds and thousands who swarmed into the desert to “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” What happens when God doesn’t show up as we expect him too? What happens when we live a life waiting for something to take place but it never happens? There is let-down and disappointment.

John the Baptist, the last of the prophets who boldly proclaimed the future coming of the Messiah went through this. He became a prisoner to disappointment. To understand John we have to go back in time; back to the time when the Jews were exiled from their native land, 587 years before Christ was born in the manger. Jerusalem had fallen into the hands of the Babylonians. The walls were toppled, the houses and streets were ablaze. The streams in the desert were made from the tears of the many families separated from one another. There was a highway of despair that led to captivity.

John knew the story recorded in Isaiah, the same one we heard today.[1] He heard that the same highway in the desert would one day be glad when a mighty God would come with vengeance, and make up for any wrongdoing. The eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, and the lame will walk. One day this would all happen, but John grew tired of hearing about it, and decided to do something about it. He spoke against the rulers of this world condemning them of their actions, and this is what got him into political trouble. It was Herod who would see that John spoke out no longer. Condemning Herod of his adulterous marriage, John was arrested and sent to an underground prison. Used to living in the open fields, feeling the warm breeze against his face, and the light of the sun in his eyes, John was now confined to a cold and dark cell. It is here that we see him face to face with the present world; He no longer proclaimed the future based on the past. He lived in a dark present and was held captive. How could he be strong and fear not, when the God he had seen at the banks of the Jordan failed to come and rescue his people? How could he let his servant who faithfully delivered the message be punished like this?

Like the reed shaken by the wind, John, perhaps, began to waver. What else would lead him to send a message to Jesus that asks, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another.” Jesus responds, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear.” This was God talking through Jesus his Son. In his way, God shares with John that his kingdom is at hand and will have no end.[2] The language God uses goes to a deeper level of our being. John didn’t need a Hallmark card. What he needed in his state of captivity was assurance that Jesus was the Messiah, and God delivered. God shined light in his darkness by his words of eternal wisdom. His truth rings out in the hearts of those feeling the bouts of disappointment and depression; who feel they have God locked down in their understanding, leaving no room for his great glory.

John expected God to be a King to come and set right what was wrong. Saddened he must have been in that cell, but in history he is not alone. For thousands who died before him and thousands who will die beyond, many experience the same type of loneliness that comes when distance from the Lord is felt. When salvation is expected to occur on our terms, relief cannot come soon enough. God’s message, is consistent and eternal. Not only will he come again, but he came before all creation as the Word, the Logos that gave life. He is the alpha and the omega; the beginning and the end. He healed those who were gripped in the exile long ago, in his own way. He healed those who came to hear John speak in the wilderness, in his own way. He continues to heal those who come to Church each Sunday, in his own way.

We prophesy the same each time when we say the Nicene Creed. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. Again and again he comes in glory. We may not see him but he is there. God is in the continuous work of healing. God is the fountain of life; the true stream in the desert that waters the tide of all humanity.

Advent is a time where we make our preparations for the birth of Jesus, and it is God’s light; his healing power that spans the past, the present and the future. When we keep the wisdom of God in our minds, the truth of God on our lips, and the Love God in our hearts, we are healed within our souls. We move out of the darkness of our infirmities; out of those things that take us captive. Like the prisoner, who receives the word of Christ, God sets us free and he heals us, in His own way.

[1] Isaiah 35:1-10
[2] Matthew 11:2-11

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