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Monday, November 29, 2010

Virtual Advent Retreat Part Two

A meditation for Advent 3A

Matthew 11:2-11
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

`See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.'

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
John the Baptist is having a bad, bad time. He is stuck in prison, after all. And the faith and passion with which he proclaimed the coming of Jesus as the Messiah seem to be gone, or at least stretched very thin.

It’s understandable, really. Jesus is not doing what he should be doing, in John’s estimation. He is, in fact, doing everything WRONG. I imagine John thinking, “This is crazy! Jesus can’t be the one, because everything is so screwed up.” He must have felt very desperate to send this message to Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t reply directly, of course. He has performed miracles that the messengers have witnessed themselves, and he advises them to describe these things to John. Unfortunately, the report is not likely to make John feel very much better, because he wasn’t actually hoping for a healer. He was hoping for his idea of a Messiah: a conqueror, a king, a smiter like the one promised in Isaiah 35:4 “He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.”

John is stuck in an idea of what Jesus was going to do and be. He can’t seem to escape his old plans for the way Jesus’ kingdom would come about. Back when John foretold the coming of Jesus and baptized him, the fire and certainty were fresh in his heart, but now all that seems to be turning to ashes. Hopeless.

It’s sometimes easy to feel that way in today’s world. We get frustrated at the gloom-and-doom news channels, the machinations of the institutional church and some individuals representing Christianity. Wars, violence, starvation…the list could go on and on. We get stuck in our own self-righteousness and sin, and wonder where God is, and whether we’ve made a mistake. Like John, we get rusty in our faith.

The Episcopal collect (the prayer “collecting” all the lectionary scriptures) for this Sunday begins, “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us…” Jesus’ work was to stir us up, to un-stick us, and the divine method for that seems to be: do everything exactly backward from the world’s way.

John provides a hinge (albeit a creaky one) connecting old, worldly expectations of the kingdom of heaven to the Kingdom that Jesus is creating.
In answering who He is, in responding to the Big Expectations, Jesus reminds the questioners of what they have seen him do.

What has Jesus seen you do lately? Or me? Last weekend marked the official first day of shopping madness in the US. I personally forewent shopping, but that’s absolutely not a stretch for me, because: I hate to shop. So, what am I going to DO, actually get up and do? I have some ideas. I will be helping with a Christmas party at the local retirement home with members of my church, for one.

For Reflection: In a season like Advent, a very busy one for clergy and engaged laity, adding more things to do can be difficult. I commend to you the idea of taking time to think about something different, whether large or small. Maybe it’s occasionally paying the toll of the person behind you. Maybe it’s putting money in every Salvation Army kettle you see. Maybe it’s taking daily time for prayer or Advent study. Take some time now, and ponder it.

Prayer: Blessed One, we thank you for coming to be one of us, for knowing how it is to be hopeless, rusty, and stuck. May we do your work in the world this season so that your glory shines forth as good news is brought to the poor.

May you be blessed this Advent season, stirred up and unstuck, and may you sing with Mary:

(Art credits: John the Baptist in Prison at Bible Explained; Hinge: Tony Howell photos)

Join in! Share comments or thoughts in the comments section here or on your own blog. Final installment of this retreat coming later today, by LutheranChik


  1. Thank you Mary Beth. I'm blogging my retreat here.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Loved this, MB. Especially the prayer. Imagine that Jesus understood being hopeless, rusty and stuck. Amazing love. Thank you.

  4. Thanks MB. See my comment on Part One about why this is sooo helpful!

  5. MB, thanks for this, for helping us feel John's experience here. And Jesus', too.


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