What do you think, good or bad?
Expectations can be a good thing. Expectations hold out hope for the future. They give us a sense of direction, a vision of what lies before us.
But expectations can also be a burden. Especially when they’re laid on us. When they’re not where we want to go. When we feel that we have to live up to someone else’s expectations. When we’re struggling to live up to our own expectations.
So imagine what it would have been like to be the Messiah. To be the one that people had been looking for, longing for, waiting for, for hundreds and hundreds of years. To be the one who was supposed to save them.
Isaiah had expectations for the Messiah. When Messiah comes, even the wilderness and dry land shall be glad, the desert shall blossom and rejoice with joy and singing. The weak will be made powerful, the fearful will become strong, the blind will see and the lame will leap. Those are big expectations.
Mary also had expectations for the Messiah, for the child that she bore in her womb, the one who, according to the angel Gabriel, was to be called the Son of God. Through him, God will scatter the proud, bring down the powerful, lift up the lowly, and fill the hungry with good things. Every mother has great expectations for her child, but Mary’s expectations go well beyond that. They’re revolutionary.
And last week you heard about John the Baptist’s expectations for the Messiah.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ John’s expectations for the Messiah are almost scary.
What are your expectations for Jesus? When he comes into your life, what do you expect to happen?
On the first Sunday of Advent we sang one of the great Advent hymns:
Come thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
Do you expect Jesus to set you free? What do we even mean by that? And is Jesus the one?
That’s the question that John asks in today’s gospel. “Are you the one?”
John’s not sure. Curious, isn’t it? Didn’t John recognize Jesus as the Messiah at his baptism in the Jordan River?
Well yes. But now John has a bit of doubt. Jesus hasn’t quite met his expectations yet. “Are you the one or do we need to wait for another?”
Two weeks ago, I was in Qumran, now an archaeological site, but at the time of Jesus, the home of a Jewish religious sect, made most famous by the discovery seventy years ago of their hidden manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is thought that John the Baptist spent some time as a member of the Qumran community. Qumran was just one of a number of Jewish sects at the time, each with a competing vision of what God required of them, each with competing Messianic expectations. Qumran was an exclusive community which set itself in opposition to the priests at the Temple in Jerusalem. They studied and copied the scriptures and had an extensive practice of ritual washing and dietary rules to set themselves apart from those who were not righteous. They expected a Messiah to come who would lead them to victory in a great war in which the Sons of Light (that is, the Qumran community) would triumph over the Sons of Darkness (that is, the enemies of Israel).
These were the sort of Messianic expectations that influenced not only John the Baptist, but most of Jesus’ contemporaries. Clear lines between us and them, the righteous and the unrighteous. Liberation as a battle, victory over enemies as our way of being set free.
Jesus was well aware of these expectations. Jesus bore the burden of these expectations. But he chose another way.
In today’s gospel, John speaks from prison, imprisoned by the Roman installed ruler, Herod Antipas. John has heard what Jesus is doing. He’s also heard what Jesus is not doing. Jesus is not organizing a resistance movement. He’s got no apparent plan to overthrow the Romans or remove Herod from power. There’s been no attempt to spring John from prison.
Is this the Messiah?
There are times and places in our lives when it’s hard to see clearly.
John is in a place where it’s hard to see. The things he thought he saw so clearly before just aren’t clear anymore. The salvation he was so sure he had seen in Jesus isn’t lining up with his current reality.
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
And Jesus replies, “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.”
Yes, I am the Messiah. Everything that Isaiah prophesied is coming true in me.
But no, I will not be the Messiah that so many of you expected.
I will not lead a war to defeat your enemies. Instead, I will teach you, and I will show you, what it means to love your enemies.
I have come for all people, so I will not subscribe to your ideas of us vs them. Instead, I will reach out to those that you think are unrighteous, to the ones our society rejects. I will bring good news to the poor, I will take the gospel to foreigners, I will go to be with the marginalized, I will touch those who are impure, I will restore those who are alienated to community.
As Messiah, my ministry will be one of grace, compassion and mercy, of healing and reconciliation, of forgiveness and self-sacrificing love, because that’s what God is like. And because that will fail to meet your expectations, I will be rejected and put to death. And then I will confound your expectations again, because three days later, I will rise again.
But blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me. Even if I do fail to live up to your expectations.
Make no mistake, Jesus holds John in the highest regard. John is a prophet, and not just a prophet, but the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.”
But something much greater than John is happening here. Something new. Something beyond even John’s wildest expectations. This is God bursting into the world as a human being.
So I’ll ask you again. What are your expectations for Jesus? Who is he in your life? Is he the one you will set you free? Is he the one whom you will follow? Is he the one, or are you waiting for something else?
We all have expectations. Sometimes, we like to keep our expectations low, so that we won’t be disappointed.
But Jesus won’t be limited by our expectations. He will go way beyond them.
On this Sunday in Advent, we light a pink candle, to remind us that the coming of Jesus will bring great joy to our lives.
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad.
The desert shall rejoice and blossom;
Like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly
And rejoice with joy and singing.”
“Come thou long expected Jesus,
Come to set thy people free.
From our sins and fears release us
Let us find our rest in thee.”
Homily. Yr A Advent 3. Dec 11 2022. Trinity
Readings: Isaiah 35.1-10; Luke 1.46-55; James 5.7-10; Matthew 11.2-11