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Are you the one?

In her sermon on 15th December, Mtr Ruth considers how reality does not always match our expectations, and that sitting in prison challenged John's expectations from the Messiah.

Hands up if you’ve got your tree up already?

This week I was beaten down by my family – who voted 3 against 1, so the tree is up and there are fairy lights everywhere.

But where are the fairy lights in today’s Gospel? With just 10 sleeps to go we might expect – something mysterious and beautiful – an angel, a promise, a twinkle. 

But no, we have a prison, and in it a man awaiting a violent death, and in him doubts, fears and uncertainties ….

In last week’s Gospel this man was standing at the river confidently announcing Jesus as the Messiah, the saviour of the world. 

This week – broken and downhearted in his cell – he is not so sure.  He hears news of all that Jesus is doing and he sends word “Are you the one who is to come? Or are we to wait for another?” 

John the Baptist is disappointed.  He has been so full of hope, so full of expectation, he has given his all to prepare his people for the coming of Jesus.                                                                       

But now that Jesus is here – he is not all that John had hoped for.

I think we all know the feeling – Christmas, we know, is a time of great expectation – a time of excitement. Even if we are jaded old cynics we still hope at the very least for the day to pass pleasantly.                                                                                 

We will maybe be seeing family and friends and we hope and expect that we will see the best of them and they will see the best of us. That we will be able to call out the image of Christ in one another - at least just for one day…

And yet we know – that violence, family breakdown and suicide surge over Christmas.  As the best hopes and expectations are disappointed. 

So what was John hoping for? 

Well, the Jesus John was expecting was the one who would bring a baptism of fire, the one who would strike the axe at the foot of the tree, the one who would bring judgement.  Who would redeem Israel by bringing down vengeance on its enemies.

Now, if we are honest, we all know this feeling too. It may not make us proud, it certainly doesn’t make me proud, but there are people out there who I genuinely believe are actively purposefully against the kingdom of God, who are opposed to what is good and true and just.

I sympathise with John the Baptist, I really do. He only wants what is fair and what’s right. He wants the bad guys to lose and the good guys to win.

And he has this suspicion that Jesus doesn’t work that way.

And he’d be right.

When Jesus gets his message he sends one back: "Tell John that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them".

Jesus is quoting from the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the kingdom coming.  Jesus is telling John that he is bringing in the kingdom of God –  which is what John wanted isn’t it? BUT – there is a tiny but – when Jesus quotes Isaiah he misses a bit out – the bit that says that the Messiah will also bring “the day of vengeance”.

What John wants to know is when is the vengeance and retribution coming? 

And what Jesus answers him is – it isn’t. And not just it isn’t yet but it isn’t EVER. Not never ever. 

The Gospel reading was Matthew 11:2-11

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