There is no due process here, no habeas corpus. No official charges will ever be made, and no public defender will ever be assigned. There is nothing for John to do but wait.
And as he waits, he wonders. He wonders what will become of his movement. He wonders what will become of him. He wonders, perhaps, if the kingdom of heaven is really as near as he told them.
But then he remembers his cousin Jesus, who came to be baptized in the Jordan. And he wonders, if this Jesus might be the One to come after him, the One who will fulfill the promises John merely proclaimed. And so John sends his disciples to ask The Question:
Are you the One who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
It’s a funny question for John to ask.You’d think John, of all people, would recognize the messiah. After all, he was the one who told everyone that he was coming, the one of whom is was prophesied, Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead, to prepare the way before me. If John was the one who sent out the invitations, how is that he can’t recognize the guest of honor when he arrives?
Some of you may have heard the story of Tamika Cross, a young, African-American medical doctor who was on a flight from Detroit to Houston when one of her fellow passengers lost consciousness. When the flight attendant asked if there was a doctor on board, Dr. Cross immediately raised a hand, but as she began to rise the attendant told her: “Oh no, sweetie, put your hand down, we are looking for an actual physician.”
At that moment another passenger came forward – someone older, whiter, and male – and the attendant told Dr. Cross, “thank you for your help, but he can help us.”
My point is, that sometimes our preconceptions make it hard to recognize that the person right in front of us is the person we have been waiting for.
So anyway: John’s disciples come to Jesus, and ask: 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: 5the 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.
That answer is classic Jesus.
John asks Jesus a straightforward, either/or, yes-or-no question, but Jesus, as usual, throws it right back at him. Judge for yourself, Jesus says. You’ve heard the stories about me. Is this what you’ve been waiting for, or not?
The answer, of course, depends as much on John as it does on Jesus.
Just what sort of Messiah, is John waiting for? What sort of savior was he envisioning? Was he expecting a charismatic prophet like Elijah, who would bring back that old time religion, with all of its rules and regulations? Was he expecting an avenging liberator like Moses, who would call plagues down upon those who had enslaved his people? Was he expecting a military leader like David, who would drive out the foreigners and make Israel great again?
John may have prepared the way for Jesus; but was he really prepared for this unlikely physician, this itinerant healer who shunned all power but love, and all arms but truth?
John asks Jesus, Are you the One we are waiting for? And Jesus replies, You tell me. Am I?
So what about us? Who are we waiting for this Advent season?
It is easy to be a Christian in the weeks before Christmas. It is easy to share in the anticipation of Advent, as we await the arrival of the baby in the manger. But what happens when the baby arrives? There is an element of surprise in every birth. You never really know, just who it is you are waiting for. Just what sort of baby, what sort of child, what sort of adult will this particular human being, this long-awaited human Son of Man, turn out to be?
It’s easy to be hopeful on Christmas Eve, when the packages are still unopened and full of promise, when Santa may yet arrive with the very thing we wished for. But what happens when we open the package? Are we ready for what we will find inside?
Are we ready for this unlikely physician, this Jesus who makes the blind to see and the deaf to hear, who preaches good news to the poor but sends the rich away empty, who embraces the outcasts and welcomes the stranger, who chastises the pious and forgives the sinner? Are we ready for this Jesus, this imprisoned, crucified and risen messiah?
Or are we expecting someone else?
My friends, this is Advent, the season of expectation. And so like John, we ask: Are you the One we are waiting for? And Jesus replies:
You tell me. Am I?