December 15, 2019: The Doubting Faith

Advent 02A 2019 

December 15, 2019

Matthew 11:2-11

“John’s Blue Christmas”

Mark Opgrand, preacher

Dear Friends in Christ.  

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

This is the second of two Sundays where we have looked into the story of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. 

 And… what a change from last week to this week!

Last Sunday’s reading from Matthew … showed John  … brimming with confidence … as he was full of fire, brimstone, and quite frankly… swagger… as … in no uncertain terms he went right after the religious establishment.

John was on fire!

His preaching attracted large crowds as he put out a clear and compelling call …to repentance as he prepared the way for the one who was greater than himself, Jesus Christ. 

Well, that’s done.

And this week he is now sitting alone in a dark and dank cell, questioning his earlier confidence … and maybe …even questioning … his very mission and identity.

What a change!

It is rather heartbreaking scene…. really. He’s in prison for going after puppet King Herod and his family, a very wrong move politically.

So what John does… is to reach out to Jesus …  through  his followers, and he asks this affecting question.

Are …you… really… the one?  Or …should we look for another?

So…. in just seven days we have jumped several chapters ahead in Matthew’s gospel … moving months forward …in the story … and from a sure and certain expressed…. confidence … to skepticism … if not outright heartache.

This movement does…. make a certain kind of sense, though, when you think about it.

Fire and brimstone confidence turned to uncertainty and despair? Anticipation to disappointment? Mountain top to deep valley? Hope to desperation? 

This kind of movement… or turn in life… is not unfamiliar to us. Think about how our lives go. We regularly charge ahead with our dreams and plans, marching forward with (all this)  optimism about the future… only to be arrested (figuratively anyway) … and caught up short, whether by 

a broken dream 

or cancer 

or loss of employment or savings … or the death of a loved one…

or the loss of a relationship…

or hundreds of other things.. any of which… can cause us …to stumble … and lose our confidence … or question our faith.

All this is particularly hard this time of the year… because at the same time we have these experiences … we are bombarded by all the manufactured cheeriness …of the season… 

Manufactured… cheeriness… however well meaning… or even traditional… often makes us feel the opposite of how… we are supposed to feel. It’s supposed to be the “happiest time of the year.” And when it’s not, we have a  hard time.

Just being honest here, folks.

 But that’s also why this passage may also have…  something …  for us…today…  on this third Sunday in Advent.

What this passage does …. is introduce a little reality … into our progress toward Bethlehem… which means … that even while we rightfully anticipate the birth of the Christ child … and give thanks for that gift … and additionally, sincerely believe that his death and resurrection promises new and eternal life … things can (still)  be … quite difficult  … for many (at least)

 Therefore… this picture of John the Baptist sharing his own doubts might just be able to reassure us… and remind us … that doubt is not the opposite of faith…. (as Frederick Buechner says…) rather doubt is part of faith…

So …  for those who imagine …. that the Christian life … is one uninterrupted happy march forward in life…from one success to another … or that moreover…. the Christian life… is…  always moving from less faith … to more faith… well… they… (we) … haven’t been payingattention.

That’s not how it goes.

The Bible itself, is a pretty clear about…  this. Jesus did not come as the victorious conqueror that many then… and maybe some now… wished he would be. On this point, St. Matthew is very clear.  Jesus, (Matthew declares…) came and comes … as Emmanuel… God with us.

But Emmanuel… does not eliminate all our troubles. Emmanuel…  rather… accompanies us through them. Jesus… Emmanuel… God with us … is the one who holds on to us… especially…. when the world…

or when … our world… feels like it is coming…  apart. Jesus… Emmanuel God with us … is the one who enters into our suffering … and into our struggles … and then reminds us … that we are not alone…

Jesus… Emmanuel … God with us… is the one who promises to bring us through these hard things … which ultimately includes through death ….to new life.

It’s a powerful message.

So where that puts us …today …on this third Sunday of Advent is actually with Christians of all times and ages…waiting…(yes) between the first advent (the first coming)  of Jesus in the flesh of a human child… and his second advent (second coming) when he comes again… in glory.

In the meantime … we trust we are walking with the one  who  will  heal all hurts … right all wrongs … wipe every tear from our eyes and bring peace to the nations.

For we believe… 

God has us. God has us.

Especially when the festive, joyful nature of the season … collides with our experience of personal loss or fear or pain. 

The important thing to recognize here, is that when …we have these experiences or these losses … or when there is doubt or grief … we are not being unfaithful.

Even John the Baptist had his own “Blue Christmas.” And that is why it is helpful to let John’s witness …here … also remind us… that we can doubt … and wait …and ask questions all while continuing…  to trust … that Jesus is the one…

Believing… that Jesus continues to make his positive mark on this world …through us… and the Holy Spirit … despite whatever sets us back.

Therefore we… like John, (for whatever time we have … will continue …

to strive for clarity

good health

love for all peoples

peace,

kindness,

and hope.

So going back ….to John’s original question, “Are you the one?” It’s not just a question.  It is also plea  .. for  reassurance … and that is exactly what Jesus offers John.

“Look around,” Jesus says… “See what is happening. Remember how the prophets pointed to this. Believe that you are part of something very big here…(John) Trust that I will be with you always.

And I …(Emmanuel) … will be with you all the time… till the end of time.

That’s a good message for us as well.  So… is Jesus the one? All I can say to you is this: 

Look around .. you. 

Look carefully.

You just saw goodness over there.

You just experienced healing.

You had a moment of clarity.

That scripture or hymn … just touched you deeply.

You felt peace.

You were just loved by someone.

You remembered you belong to God.

God answered that prayer.

You felt God’s presence.

You just forgave someone, and it was good.

What just happened?  Joy just happened. Joy to the World. The Lord has come.

And yes, that is God with us. Emmanuel. 

So like John, be reassured.   Amen.

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