Third Sunday in Advent
The Gospel. St. Matthew 11. 2.
At that time: Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him : Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them : Go and shew John those things which ye do hear and see : the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them ; and blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John : What went ye out to see ? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings houses. But what went ye out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written : Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
Ah, John the Baptist. What a character. Here’s a guy who is described in the Bible in the most unflattering terms. And yet, we know that John had any number of followers in his day, some of whom even thought that he might have been the messiah. Of course, we know differently, but John made quite a stir at that time.
Can you imagine what it must have been like to actually see and hear John? There you sit in your little village, and you might have heard about this preacher, this prophet, traveling around the countryside yelling about repentance and causing a lot of commotion. Then you hear that this Baptist is coming to your town!
And so, you head out to see what the big deal is about. And you come upon a crowd of people, at the center of which stands this man. Dressed in an animal skin. Munching on a locust. Likely not smelling too good either. And he’s going to preach to us about repentance? If we were confronted by this sort of character today, how many of us would turn away in disgust or revulsion? And why would we turn away? After all, what were we expecting?
Today, of course, we expect our preachers to be much more civilized than that. Two years ago I was in downtown Indianapolis to attend the Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. As I approached the entrance gates, I heard a man’s voice booming from across the street. When I looked, I saw that this man had one of those portable loud speaker systems, and he was using it to “preach” to the crowds as they passed by.
Needless to say, most of the people tried to steer clear of him completely. They either walked around him, or crossed to the other side of the street, anything to avoid having to acknowledge him; or worse, having him confront them. His message was really quite simple; repent. And one of the reasons why he was shunned was equally simple; He didn’t meet our expectations of a “civilized” preacher.
So what do you expect? What do you expect when you come here to church? Well, I’m betting that you likely expect these things; you expect to receive the Blessed Sacrament; you expect good music; you expect a good sermon, preferably a short one; you expect to see and socialize with your Church family and friends; then you expect to leave feeling good. Of course, I can guarantee you most of those things, except the good sermon part. But isn’t something missing here? What about what is expected of you?
Ah, darn it, you just knew I was going to do this, didn’t you? We don’t often like to hear about our responsibility, do we? But expectations go both ways. And so, we are expected to be in church every Sunday; we are expected to make our Communion; we are expected to worship God; to praise him; to thank him. We are expected to hear his Gospel; to live it; to proclaim it ourselves every day. We are expected to bring others to God and to His Church. We are expected to support the Church through our gifts of time and money. We are expected to see and consider our fellow human beings as children of God, no matter how they dress or how they act or the length of their hair or the color of their skin.
I wonder if John didn’t have his own expectations. After all, he sent his followers to Jesus and says, basically, “are you the one that we’re looking for, or should we be looking elsewhere”? But instead of simply answering “yes”, Jesus responds in such a way as to meet all expectations, not only for declaring that he is the Messiah, but also for the establishment of his Kingdom here on earth. And with this comes the expectations for us.
“the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them ; and blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me”.
Wait a minute; take offense at Jesus? Surely none of us does that. Who would take offense at the Son of God? Well, let’s go back to what’s expected of us; I have heard people say they were just too tired to come to church. I have heard people say that they just can’t afford to give any more money. I have heard people say, “I’m no evangelist”. I have heard people disparage others because of the way they look. And I have seen these people become offended when they are confronted with these things. I tell you, these people are offended by Jesus Christ. Think about these examples I’ve just given you, and ask yourself again; have you taken offense at Jesus?
So I must repeat my question; what did you come here expecting? Did you expect the music to be good? Well, the music is always good, if you make it that way. The music isn’t just about how well the choir performs, though they always do so superbly. It is also about how you participate, adding your voice with everyone else in praise and adoration of God.
Did you expect to find rest and comfort here today? You will receive that and more if you approach the altar rail to receive the Blessed Sacrament with your conscience clear and your heart open. Cast aside jealousies, bigotries, hatred. Cast aside your expectations and ready yourself to fulfill God’s expectations of you.
Did you expect to simply hear some explanation of the days Gospel lesson? Or did you come hoping to hear something that you could use in your daily life; something that you could tell others; something that could inspire you to spread the Word and to expand the Kingdom of God?
Did you expect to hear something that would not offend you? Or did you come ready to accept that you’ve likely offended God; that you have sinned in some way; that you may have taken offense at Jesus Christ?
John the Baptist came dressed in animal skins, eating locust and wild honey, covered with the dust and dirt of his travels. And yet, he was described by Jesus as the greatest of all the prophets and more; “the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3).
This man, who we would likely go out of our way to avoid today, was the same one who came to prepare the way for Christ. John the Baptist met all of God’s expectations. Today, as we find ourselves at the half-way point in our preparation for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas, it is time that we begin to meet what is expected of us.
“And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John : What went ye out to see ?“