Sunday, 15 December 2013

Advent 3: Are You The One?

Matthew 11.2-11 & Isaiah 35.1-10
When you think about life together with all its twists and turns, how often have we all heard someone say such things as, I never thought I’d end working with these people, or living here, or with these responsibilities, or in some sad cases losing that loved one so early or under such circumstances.
In a positive way it can be all the effort you put into securing a new piece of business which results in something totally different, the football cross that you mis-hit which ends up going straight in the net as the fans laud your genius, the unrecognised plant bulb which you shove in the ground anyway only for it to bloom beautifully the following spring.
Reflection, particularly as the years accumulate, makes us realise that the harder we try to pretend to others that we are in control, the more we demonstrate our insecurities and the more our humanity is eroded.
Herod is a prime example, criticised by John the Baptist for marrying his brother’s ex-wife and feeling threatened by John’s preaching about a new kingdom he has him put in prison. From prison we heard that John sent his followers to Jesus to ask ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another’?
It seems a strange question to us with the benefit of history, but clearly John had some doubt. We know of John’s fiery preaching, warning people to flee from ‘the  wrath to come’ so why was he who prepared the way left languishing in prison, never to see the light of day again, if this is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke?
Is it unreasonable that he might expect to have his release demanded by the messiah he prophesied of, that he might have some role in all that he foretold? It looks like John has grounds for feeling very hard done by. It’s too early and dangerous for Jesus to reveal himself as messiah so all John receives is a cryptic message which quotes directly from our Isaiah reading. We can’t be certain how John reacted but they would have been familiar words and no doubt John would have been forced to recognise Christ in a different way from that what he had expected.
As Christians we learn that we don’t often understand where we fit into God’s plan and that can be extremely challenging to our faith. There’s an irony to the fact that as people of faith we can often end up feeling that we make life harder for ourselves. When we do things we regret it’s saddening to know we have gone against God’s will whereas the person of no faith may just shrug it off.
I’ve heard of people who say at their lowest or their time of greatest suffering that they’ve felt closest to God. However this isn’t the case for all people of faith, when faced with life changing and life threatening situations some find they feel as if nothing is there. The people Jesus talks of wearing ‘soft robes in Royal palaces’ are clearly not those suddenly forced to consider whether his message is real. At testing times many of us may ask as John did ‘are you the one’? Perhaps a bit like John it is asked because this isn’t what we expected, we thought we would feel your presence stronger even that you might set us free from our suffering in a way we can understand this side of heaven.
Of course there is no sugar coated way to deal with doubt or suffering a crises of faith but honest thinking and talking about it has to be start. Understanding that faith may not be a constant makes our support of each other more real.
Words of scripture and lessons learnt in better times may sustain us in hard times but it’s in these times that our faith is tested like never before and our true relationship with Christ is revealed.

Kevin Bright


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