Scripture: Matthew 11:2-11
Let us pray:
Father of Christmas, as we prepare for your coming, open our hearts and illumine these scriptures by your Holy Spirit – that we may learn and do your will, following in the way of your Son: Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you ever been highly excited by something you envisioned, and then found yourself let down when the reality comes? Or have you ever found yourself in a complete role reversal? For example, you were sons and daughters being cared for and now you find yourself caring for those same parents?
John the Baptist experienced both. First, when Jesus came to him at the Jordan to be baptized; John recognized Jesus and said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
“Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.” (Mt. 3:14-15) What a complete role reversal! I don’t know what I would have done in his shoes.
Later John must have had second thoughts about it all when he became imprisoned. He sent a messenger out to Jesus to ask if he really was the one they had been waiting for or if there was supposed to be another. I have to wonder whether John had been paying attention or not; I imagine it would be hard to miss a dove-like visionary emanation of the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as he comes up out of the water, much less God’s voice from heaven declaring, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Shouldn’t such incredible revelation be enough? Or is John second-guessing himself because now he is in prison, his life is in danger, and Jesus didn’t turn out to do what John may have expected the Messiah of God to do? Could it be that John himself even envisioned some sort of physical kingdom with the coming of God’s Anointed, and was left wanting with the intangibility of its spiritual nature?
That does beg a question, doesn’t it? At what point does the spiritual nature of the heavenly kingdom find expression in the physical? As much as we may function in a compartmentalized culture of work, play, family, philanthropy, retirement, and even church involvement, we don’t function at our highest potential if our spiritual lives are separate from the rest of our lives. In fact, they are inseparable; we are by design made in God’s image, with a spiritual dimension, even if we deny it or choose to question spirituality as a whole.
Why do I bring this up? At the crux of the Advent season is not one but two Advents. We are a people that live between the Advents, people of the “now-but-not-yet” kingdom of heaven; as such, we share the role both John and Jesus set before us. Like John and Jesus, our calling as Christians is to the higher standard of God’s reign. To live that out, we must be wholly present to all aspects of life around us, bearing the light even as John bore the light, even as Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness.
This present darkness is not darker than any other history has experienced. In fact, it may be quite a bit less dark than some chapters of humanity’s broken past. But, if we follow like all true disciples the path from the cradle to the cross, we will become the light bearers that need to be ever present, on every hill, so that our fellow travelers can know the way to go.
Of course, being Advent, we must, as J. Heinrich Arnold writes,
“…Ask ourselves again and again: Are we willing to go his way, from the stable to the cross? As disciples we are not promised comfortable and good times. Jesus says we must deny ourselves and suffer with him and for him. That is the only way to follow him, but behind it lies the glory of life – the glowing love of God, which is so much greater than our hearts and our lives.”
This trail of Advent introspection, as it were, is one of the few avenues we have available to us if we are to become deeper, compassionate people of discipleship. “Spiritual depth…is the working of God coming down and penetrating to the depths of our hearts, and not of our own soul’s climbing.” Conversely, declining to take this journey can actually lead to drastic deficiencies.
Father Richard Rohr reminds us,
“We mostly think like everybody around us thinks unless we have taken some real inner journeys of love, prayer, and suffering. Without great love and/or great suffering, human consciousness remains largely at the fight-or-flight, either/or, all-or-nothing level. [Such thinking, at] the lowest level of brain function, will never be able to access, much less deal with, the really big things…”
Big things such as love, freedom, evil, God, eternity, nonviolence, forgiveness, grace and mercy. To cast that in a contemporary light, in the political platform of the first Advent, we have these big things lifted up as the in-breaking of the heavenly kingdom touches all the earth for the first time. In the platform of the second Advent, it is our calling to be enacting the deeper spiritual values presented to us from the first Advent.
William Stringfellow once wrote,
“…in the coming of Jesus, the nations and principalities and the rulers of the world are judged in the Word of God. In the lordship of Christ they are rendered accountable to human life and, indeed, to all created life.”
So, too, are we. Come, let us prepare ourselves once again in this season of Advent, and let us pray that all glory and honor and power and mercy and might be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the coming Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Arnold, J. Heinrich. In Watch For the Light; Readings for Advent and Christmas. Plough Publishing; Farmington, PA © 2001.
 Britts, Philip. In Watch For the Light; Readings for Advent and Christmas. Plough Publishing; Farmington, PA © 2001.
 Rohr, Father Richard. Preparing for Christmas; Daily Meditations for Advent. Franciscan Media; Cincinnati, OH © 2008.
 Stringfellow William. In Watch For the Light; Readings for Advent and Christmas. Plough Publishing; Farmington, PA © 2001.
Questions for Reflection
What does the kingdom of heaven have to do with the signs that Jesus describes for John’s disciples: “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” (Matt. 11:5)? Where have you seen or heard such things?
Household Prayer: Morning
Holy God, at the dawning of this day new life blossoms like the crocus, and fresh promise wells up like a spring. As I go forth in your presence, confirm my resolve to worship you, strengthen my hands to serve your people, and keep me always in your holy way; through Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Mighty God, my soul rejoices at the great things you have done this day—giving daily bread for my hunger, showing endless mercy for my sin. As you have blessed my ancestors bless and keep me this night; in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.