Setting our Sights Lower

Advent 2 December 8, 2019

Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Last Sunday I offered up to God four laments.  I pointed out my concern over the decline in church attendance, not only in our church but in churches in general.  I voiced my worries over all the boundary violations emerging in churches.  I called out our politicians and the corruption and hypocrisy unfolding in Washington.  Finally, I spoke about the need of vulnerable children the world over, our own communities included.  I ended each lament with these words, “What are you waiting for, God?  O Come, O Come, Immanuel.”  I wonder if you could hear the fear in my voice last Sunday?  Advent is a season of waiting – waiting for God to break through into our present reality just as he did that long ago first Christmas night.  But we’ve been waiting for so long, somehow it reaches a point where we get tired of waiting.  We look around and see all that’s wrong with our world and fear creeps in.  Is God here?  Does God care?  In the face of such overwhelming violence, mayhem, evil, do we worship a God who for reasons unknown to us, chooses to simply sit on His hands and do nothing?  These are scary questions to ask.  But I think we all ask them, when we sit in the dark wishing, praying for the reassurance of light.  “God, what are you waiting for?”

What are we waiting for?  A superhero Marvel God to come flying out of the sky at the perfect moment and rescue us when danger threatens?  A larger than life emergent king who commands our allegiance and topples all obstacles in his path?  A cosmic, earth shattering arrival of Greatness we can’t even put to words?  What are we waiting for with our sights set so high? 

Our longing joins forces with John the Baptist’s in our text for today.  John was a doer.  Since childhood he had trained for his role as the forerunner. John had been out there in the wilderness for years, drawing in new followers.  He’d made countercultural lifestyle choices that aligned with his ethics, camel’s hair and locusts come to mind.  He’d been preparing the Way with baptisms and fiery speeches that aroused the ire of those in power.  He’d been predicting a new king coming, a kingdom just at hand.  His sights were set high. 

Then he lands in prison where he is forced to wait.  This bundle of passion and energy sits and waits…and waits.  And everything he’s predicted Jesus will do, with the ax at the root of the tree and the winnowing fork in hand to burn chaff with unquenchable fire…well, Jesus keeps not getting around to doing these things so high on John’s agenda.  Trickled droplets of fear begin pooling in John’s heart and hard questions begin to surface. “What are you waiting for, Jesus?  Are you the one I’ve spent my whole life prophesying about?  Are you the one I’m going to be dying for any day now?  Or did I get this all wrong?”  And so John sends some of his disciples to go ask Jesus this most heart rending question.  “Are you the one who was to come, or should we be expecting someone else?”

 Now Jesus loves his cousin, John, very much, so he doesn’t make John wait on his answer…doesn’t forget his cousin waiting in prison with doubts in his heart.  He sends those same disciples right back to John with his response – a response John perhaps wasn’t expecting.  It might not quite be what we had in mind either.  Jesus isn’t knocking on the doors of the rich and mighty.  He isn’t going to the influence brokers of soci