Ivanov, Aleksandr Andreevich, 1806-1858. John the Baptist – study for painting “Christ Among the People”, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46166 [retrieved December 17, 2022]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alexander_Andrejewitsch_Iwanow_003.jpg.

RCL Year A, Advent 3
Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 146:4-9, James 5:7-10, Saint Matthew 11:2-11

Saint John the Baptist remains today at center stage, where he was last Sunday. His popularity and his bombastic proclamation together have landed him in prison. Saint Matthew tells us elsewhere that John has confronted Herod Antipas with his unlawful adultery in taking his living brother’s wife as his own wife. In time John will be handed a martyr’s death rather than he soften his zealous proclamation of the reign of God.

In his zeal he is a true prophet, not a copy or imitator. Jesus himself declares that John is no “reed shaken by the wind”[1]; nor is he someone “dressed in soft robes.”[2] He is “more than a prophet.”[3] He is the one who is God’s messenger, sent before Jesus to “prepare” his “way before”[4] him. Of those born of women “no one has arisen greater than”[5] him.

And yet, for all his greatness he has something of a limitation when it comes to Jesus. Jesus says that “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than”[6] John. He belongs to another and an older era: he is not part of reign of God that Jesus embodies and inaugurates. He is not able to put his faith in Jesus as you can or as I do. He does not receive the Baptism of Jesus that he proclaimed in the Gospel last week, the Baptism “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”[7] You and I have received that Baptism but John has not.

And even more significantly, John, though he has zealously and loudly trumpeted the Advent of the Messiah, has not been given the certainty that Jesus is the Messiah. In the Gospel today he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”[8] John isn’t sure about Jesus, because Jesus’ ministry has not been one with the fiery judgment that John had preached and predicted. Jesus has given the blind their sight, enabled the lame to walk, cleansed lepers, brought hearing to the deaf, raised the dead, and the poor have good news brought to them. Hope, in other words, has been returned to them. Jesus’ ministry is engaged is fulfilling the prophecy of John’s predecessor, Isaiah.

Jesus tells all these things to John’s disciples so that John may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. And when Jesus tells John’s disciples, “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me,”[9] Jesus issues a kind of warning to John that he choose to be blessed rather than disappointed that Jesus fails to fulfill John’s expectations.

For John, despite his greatness and his importance, despite his zeal and his willingness to die for the righteousness of God, faces the same choice that you and I face–the choice to believe that Jesus is the one who is to come. John will make a serious mistake, a sad mistake, like that of the Pharisees and Sadducees, if he chooses to wait for another.

You see what blessings Jesus offers to John and to us. As in the days of Moses, life and death are both within our reach. We are free to choose either one. We make a sad mistake if we choose wrongly or if we think we made our choice long ago and do not have to make it again. Not only is the choice before John before us as well, we have to choose every day, every year, and every moment of our lives.

As we prepare for Christmas and all the gifts under the tree, we should prepare to receive the gift Christ wants to give us, the gift of his constancy. That gift he will give us when he sees that we choose, over and over again, to be his. For every moment we have is a moment we have been given to declare ourselves as his–Christ’s own for ever.

[1] Saint Matthew 11:7.

[2] Saint Matthew 11:8.

[3] Saint Matthew 11:9.

[4] Saint Matthew 11:10.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Saint Matthew 11:11.

[7] Saint Matthew 3:11.

[8] Saint Matthew 11:3.

[9] Saint Matthew 11:6.