First Lesson: Isaiah 35: 1-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 146: 5-10
Second Lesson: James 5: 7-10
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11: 2-11
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin by telling you a story about a friend of mine named Ira. The one thing that you should know about Ira is that his whole social life revolves around either fishing or hunting. These are the things that Ira is passionate about in life.
Here’s a story to illustrate this. Ira used to live in Western Wisconsin about 15-20 minutes from where I grew up. So I’m driving to Ira’s house one night. Ira lived way out in the country there’s a hardly a light near Ira’s house. I pull into Ira’s driveway and hear a whole bunch of yelling. What I heard wasn’t just raised voices yelling. The voices that I heard were top of your lungs (hysterical yelling). During all this yelling, all I could make out was that those yelling weren’t going to have anything to do with each other again. Most of the words that I heard I will not repeat in church.
I remember as I opened the car door at Ira’s, I seriously thought about turning around and going home. I didn’t want to talk to a police officer later that night.
I saw Ira’s brother walk out with his wife. Ira’s brother Milo wouldn’t make eye contact with me or acknowledge me. All I heard Milo say was “I’m never coming back here.” As he hopped in his car and drove off.
As I walked to Ira’s backyard, I had no clue about what they were arguing. I wondered if they were fighting about money. If it wasn’t money, I figured someone had something about the other’s wife or even worse. So I walk into Ira’s backyard and see that he’s furious but trying to calm down. Everyone sits there for five minutes with no one capable of saying a word.
All of a sudden, one of Ira’s friends Carl sounds irritated as he blurts out “How come whenever You and Milo get together all that you do is argue about boat motors?”
Now it might seem silly for Ira and Milo to invoke so much passion over which is better between an Evinrude and a Mercury but for Ira and Milo these convictions were so strong that they were going to fight for them with every fiber of their being. Boat motors in their mind are worth fighting for with every fiber of their being. Now if boat motors invoke so much passion imagine how much passion salvation can bring. Now this morning let me continue the story of a guy whose religious fervor was such that he was now in prison in John the Baptist. John the Baptist was going to fight so others may hear his message of baptism for the forgiveness of sins with every fiber of his being.
Our Gospel lesson from Matthew 11 speaks of John waiting in prison after dedicating years of his life to proclaiming the coming Messiah. John was at the point in his life where he seemed to be more existing than anything else. The forecast showed no signs of life getting better for John the Baptist. John a couple of years back had seen the high point in his ministry when he baptized Jesus in the river Jordan. John maybe had a grandiose vision on that day of Jesus and him working together to reach people throughout Judea.
Now here John was in Jail. All John had done was told the truth; Herod Antipas had taken residence with his brother’s wife. John had proclaimed that this wasn’t what God intended. John was now sitting in prison, thinking alone night after night. John was growing impatient. Jesus wasn’t shaking up the situation fast enough for his liking. John began to wonder whether his hopes in the man that he had baptized were misplaced.
So, John, has his followers pass the following question along to Jesus: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John’s question could very easily be: “Jesus, if you’re really the Messiah why do you have me sitting in this jail cell with no hope of rescue?”. The question could also be “Jesus, why don’t you banish sinners like Herod Antipas from the Earth once and for all?” or “Jesus, why if you’re really God’s Messiah must I wait for what is to come?”
Now as you hear about John’s situation, your situation is not his situation. Yet John’s feelings very well might resemble your feelings. Plenty of people go through life feeling like they are continually in prisons of their own without any chance of escape. My grandma continually refers to her nursing home as “prison” of which she yearns for escape.
These prisons we live in are especially noticeable this time of year. The reality of the Holiday season is there are a lot of people that do not look forward to it. The reasons may vary. We might define Christmas by who isn’t around whether through loss or estrangement. Christmas might be defined by who isn’t in their life. No one likes to be under the mistletoe alone year after year. Christmas inevitability brings up the comparison to those around us of seemingly functional families and bottomless bank accounts. While you might not be in John the Baptist’s situation on this day, you very well might be longing for escape from that which afflicts you in life.
“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” This question is seemingly no different than Job’s question of” Why God Why? Why would you take my family, my possessions, and ultimately my health?” So John the Baptist’s disciples come across Jesus to finally unveil the mystery of God’s plan for it. Here’s the answer that Jesus gives.
You will witness signs in your life. The blind will be able to see. The lame will be able to walk. The deaf will be able to hear. The faithless will now believe.
The signs that we see as Christian people might not seem as dramatic but rest assured they are there.
Tim Zingale tells the following story: Some years back a small church like this one was gathering for a morning Bible study. They were discussing trying to find God’s presence in the world. Finally, someone pipes up “If God would take one of the towns down and outers and change that person overnight, it would do more to convince us of his presence than anything I can think of.”
The Pastor finally remarks “What about Bob?”
Bob had previously been as bad an alcoholic as anyone had ever seen. Bob had drunk himself out of a job, out of a family, out of the respect of every single person in town. People would turn the other way when they saw Bob coming. One day though a new Methodist minister comes to town who because he seemingly didn’t know any better struck up a friendship with Bob. The new minister finally convinces Bob to go to AA Meetings, and Bob got sober. Three years later, Bob was back working again, Bob had reconciled with his family, and back in church. Within a decade, Bob was a leader in the community and lay preacher in his church.
God was at work in Bob’s life, performing a miracle no different than blind being able to see or the lame being able to walk. This miracle was slow in unfolding, so people missed it. But God had performed a miracle in Bob’s life in every way imaginable.
Bob’s story reminds us that often all we have to grasp onto as people of faith are signs that the world’s eventual redemption is on the horizon, even if it is not here yet.
Bob’s story should cause us reflection as we consider the meaning of this Advent season. What do we anticipate as Christian people or better yet what should we anticipate as we get ready for Christmas day?
What we should do as Christian people is long for God’s promises to come true, even when every card in the world seems to be stacked against us in the present moment.
Rev. Dr. David Leninger tells the following story:
“A few years ago in Reader’s Digest, a lady reported searching for the perfect birthday card for her husband. She came across a promising one. On the outside, it read: “Sweetheart, you’re the answer to my prayers.” Then she turned to the inside, which was inscribed like this: “You’re not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently you are the answer.”
John’s Prayers for Freedom in this lifetime were not going to be answered within the walls of his prison cell. People will call out during this holiday season a longing for a different type of existence.
During these times we remember Jesus’ words from our Gospel lesson: “And blessed is anybody who does not get tripped up on me.” Blessed are those who like John the Baptist even as they wait in their prison cells do not stumble because of their impatience. My point isn’t this morning that good Christian people in this life will never get impatient.
Impatience in the case of John the Baptist or in your own life isn’t always a bad thing. Impatience speaks to a passion for experiencing a whole different world from that which you previously know. I’d rather encounter a soul crying out than one who is apathetic that the world around them can truly change.
Advent is waiting for a miracle to take shape in the world around you. We long for a day when Ira and Milo can come to a relative peace over what is the best boat motor, when the Bobs within our community see their redemption story come to completion, when those lonely on this day come face to face with the source of love and acceptance. We long for the day when John the Baptist’s question of “Are you the Christ or shall we look for another?,” receives an answer with the sight of God’s new birth in our world. Word is this birth might be happening soon! Amen
 Matthew 14:1-12.
 Really good reflection on these issues written by Dr. Jeannie Miller-Clarkson entitled: “Bah Humbug! Three Reasons Some People Hate The Holidays.” The article is found on jeanniemillerclarkson.com published on December 3rd, 2016 and accessed on December 5th, 2016.
 Matthew 11:3.
 Allen, Ron. “Commentary on Matthew 11:2-11”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 11.Dec.2016. Web. Dec.6.2016.
 Paraphrase of Matthew 11:5.
 Zingale, Tim. “ What Do You Hear and See?” Sermon Central. Com. Jan.11.2002. Web. 7.Dec.2016.
 Zingale, Tim. “ What Do You Hear and See?”
 Zingale, Tim. “ What Do You Hear and See?”
 Leninger, Rev.Dr.David. “Are You The One?” SermonWriter.Com. 2004. Web. 5.Dec.2016. Leninger cites: Barbara Bartocci, “The Unexpected Answer,” Reader’s Digest, 9/84, pp. 87-88 for this analogy.
 Matthew 11:6