What Did You Expect?

Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11    

Third Sunday of Advent

John leapt in his mother’s womb when he heard Jesus’ mother’s voice.  He called people to a life of repentance.  John the Baptizer is the one who announced Jesus’ coming from the vastness of the wilderness. John was a truth-teller.  He told the king a truth he did not want to face. John condemned King Herod’s divorce from his wife to marry Herodias, his brother’s wife.  John confronted King Herod about his illicit marriage. John, confined and captive, now had questions.  He needed to know.  From his jail cell, he sent word to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  In his voice is the loud crash of hope, and the breaking of his heart.  John would never make it out of prison.  The next we hear is that John was beheaded to satisfy Herodias’ desire for revenge.

In the season of waiting for the Messiah to be born, and for Christ to come again, John’s story interrupts our singing and our joy.  Who among the powers that be chose this story for our Advent season of hope?  At first glance, it seems a poor choice.  But my recent honest conversations with people convinces me otherwise.  This season is a time when old wounds seem overwhelming, and loneliness intensifies.  The disparity between the life we hope for and the life we have plunges us into darkness.  John’s story reflects the harshness and injustice  of life.

John the Baptizer was confined by the bars of his jail cell.  Some of us are just as bound by those things that have torn us apart.  Our wounds remain, and our bodies remember trauma. We carry it around with us. Our woundedness manifests itself in thousands of ways.  John the Baptizer’s response to his trauma was to tell its truth and express his disappointment and doubt.  In addition to speaking the truth, trauma researchers also emphasize the importance of tending to our wounds, and assert that there is healing power in giving “witness to suffering.”[1]

Often the church intensifies suffering by explicitly or implicitly saying the injured must have done something to deserve God’s wrath. Feelings of shame and guilt compound the problem.  Social and systemic injustice keeps some populations vulnerable.

The United States has the largest rate of incarceration in the world.  Over half a million people in the United States are homeless.  About 11% of the adult homeless population are veterans, and 45% of them are African American or Hispanic. Women military veterans are more than twice as likely as non-female vets to commit suicide.  1 in every 6 women, and 1 in every 33 men have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape.  Kids who are bullied have increased incidents of illness and problems in school.  Jesus, are you the one to come, or should we wait for another?

Illness, divorce, abuse, unemployment all leave wounds. It was seven years and one day ago, December 14, 2012, the children and adults heard loud crashing over the intercom at Sandy Hook Elementary School. 20 children ages 6 and 7, along with 6 adults had been murdered. The lives of the ones who survived, and on everyone in the community, changed forever.  Some cuts are deep than others, but we cannot get through this life without being wounded.  Jesus, are you the one to come, or should we wait for another?

John had gone from certainty to doubt.  Jesus answered John’s messengers, 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.  Jesus might have said, John, I know that as the Messiah, I am not doing those things that you expected me to do.  But look around for signs of God in the world.

The reality of who Jesus is comes to light in the lives of those who are wounded. When our expectations of what are lives should be are shattered, when we confess that we are part of a broken world, it is then that God invites us into the truth of who God is.  God invites us to be honest about our woundedness, and to honor our despair and our doubt.

Whether we recognize it or not, Christ bears our wounds. Jesus takes on our grief, our injuries, and our hurts.  Through his life, death and resurrection, we are set free.  No longer are we in bondage to that which would kill us.  After his death, Jesus rose from the dead still bearing the wounds in his hands, and the wound in his side.  He made no attempt to hide them, but instead showed them to his disciples.  In his wounded hands, Jesus holds ours.  He takes on our sin, our suffering, our disappointment and our doubts, and holds them. This is our redemption.  Christ holds it all. Jesus Christ is our salvation.

God’s promise to us is that the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.  God’s promise to us is that when Christ comes again, there will be no more tears.

In the name of the one who was, and who is, and will come again, amen.

 

~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Rambo, Shelly. “Theology after Trauma.”  The Christian Century, November 20, 2019: 22-27 print

Author: Pastor Cheryl Griffin

Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin thinks God has a sense of humor for leading her into ministry, but can’t imagine doing anything else! Pastor Griffin received her BA degree from the College of William and Mary. She worked as an accountant before God led her to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, where she received her Master of Divinity degree. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Griffin is a member of the Ministerium Team and frequently leads small groups at synod youth events. She is also a representative to the VA Synod Council.