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?” (Read the whole passage)
The darkness persists today. We are 3 Sundays into Advent and we have been exploring the dark places of our world. Two weeks ago, Jesus implored us to Keep Awake. Keep Awake watching for the Son of Man might come like a thief in the night. Keep Awake and let your eyes adjust to the dark places of our world.
Last week, we went into the wilderness with John the Baptist, we left the lights of the city behind, the lights of society with all its problems, to go to the stark and empty wilderness. And there John preached about the coming of Messiah to straightened crooked paths. Today, we emerge with the followers of John the Baptist from the darkness of prison, to ask about who really is the Messiah. The darkness of advent that we encounter these days is not just the dark winter nights and short winter days. It is the darkness that exists all around us, the suffering and difficult places of the world. It is the darkness that seems to be falling as the world is gripped by fear and foreboding about the future. And the darkness is also the same one that we encounter when we lie awake at night and ponder the deep questions of life. The preparation and making ready of Advent has less to do with decorating trees and putting out wreaths, than with spending time in the dark to consider the deeper parts of life that are often only thought of in the darkness.
The questions that keep us up at night are often questions of identity. Who am I? What do I believe? Where am I going? Does what I am doing with my life have any meaning?
For us, as we ponder who we are and who it is that we follow and what it is that we actually believe, we are left to wonder just what it means to be members of this congregation. to be Lutherans, to be Christians, to be members of the body of Christ. Does believing in God and the bible and virgin births and resurrections from the dead mean that we also have to agree with those Christians with condescending and judgemental on TV? Or is it okay to have a quiet faith where we just come to church on Sunday and mind our own business the rest of the week? Should we be serving the homeless more? Knocking on neighbours doors to ask them about their Lord and Saviour? Praying more? Reading the bible more?
Confronting the darkness and the questions of Advent are the means of preparing for Messiah to come. And as our eyes adjust to the darkness, as the distractions of the light are stripped away and we see ourselves more clearly, we are left to ask questions about who we are.
Wondering about identity is at the heart of the question that John’s disciples ask today. John’s wilderness sermons have made him popular, and many have begun to follow him as if he is the Messiah, despite John’s pointing to another. But John’s wilderness preaching has also made him a threat to those in power. So King Herod has John jailed. And now in prison John is perhaps wondering if all the bold preaching he did on the banks of the river Jordan is still true from the his dark prison cell. Or perhaps his followers are wondering who they should follow now. Whether Jesus is the really the one who is come.
And while it sounds like John’s followers are asking about Jesus’ identity, their question is one about their own. Wondering about who Jesus is, is actually a question about who they are, about what they believe and about who they believe in. And like John’s followers, in the Advent darkness, with all the busyness of the life hidden from view, we can lose confidence in our identity. In the midst of darkness and uncertainty all around us, we can find it hard to see our selves as people who really believe that Jesus is the one.
And so with John followers we ask our Advent question, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Is the Jesus the Messiah who is actually going to do something about the suffering of our world? About the people around us and in our community who are suffering. About the fear that is seeping into people around the globe. Is Jesus the one who is going to end wars, feed the hungry, reconcile the divided, calm the fearful and bring hope to the nations.
These days, it is hard to get behind those things.
It is hard to feel that Jesus is actually going to do any of that.
And so we wonder, who are we if we cannot see or believe that the one we follow is the one to come.
And then, just as Jesus answers John’s followers, Jesus speaks to us.
“Its not about you” Jesus says.
“It is not about whether you can believe, even in the dark”
“It is about me. It is about light that I will show you.”
Jesus says that our identity is not ours to sort out. It is not up to us to figure it out in the dark.
But rather, out of the darkness comes a light. A light born into the world from the divine. A light rooted in the Messiah. Messiah who determines our identity.
Whether Jesus is the one or not, is not the question.
But rather whether we belong to Messiah is.
And Jesus the Messiah says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see”
That the faithful gather here even in the Advent darkness.
That the word of life is spoken not just in quiet whispers, but in confession and prayer, in song and praise, in reading and preaching.
That the mercy of God is given and received, offered to all who come.
That the waters of rebirth are crashing over us day after day as we are reminded of who we are as baptized children of God.
That the bread and wine of salvation is served and shared with wild abandon, making a place for any and all at the table.
“Its not about you.” Jesus says, ‘Yet, it is all about you.”
Because just when we cannot see who we are in the darkness, God comes and enters into our very flesh, God joins with creation so that our identity is no longer found in the dark, but in the light. Because God has taken on our created-ness, we take a new identity in the Body of Christ.
And all those things that worry and nag at us from the darkness, the suffering and struggles of our neighbours, the fear and divisions of our nations, the wars and conflict of our globe…. all those things begin to be transformed by the light of Messiah.
The crooked paths are straightened, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lepers cleaned and the good news is preached to the poor all because God has become us.
The darkness of Advent is where we must begin each year. Lying awake in the dark, wondering and watching for who we are and what this all means. Asking if Jesus is the one to come, or must we wait for another.
Because it is in the darkness of Advent that light it stirred up. It is only from the darkness that we will clearly see the light, that our advent questions will lead us to One who has been here all along.
And so today, from Advent’s dark and wild places, Messiah’s coming is proclaimed… and Jesus reminds us above all,
that the light is on its way.