Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents’ house the week before Christmas. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers. The younger one began praying at the top of his lungs:
“I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE…” “I PRAY FOR A NEW NINTENDO…”
His older brother leaned over, nudged him and said, “Why are you shouting? God isn’t deaf.” To which the little brother replied, “No, but our grandparents are!”
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. How has your journey been? Have you lived in peace last week? Have you hoped big enough to celebrate the coming of Jesus into your lives?
This morning we read Matthew 11 which starts with John’s question to Jesus. He was in prison and sent his disciples to ask this question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
For me, it is very odd that John asked this question to Jesus. Who is John? According to the gospels, John was so convinced that Jesus was the one who was to come.
John was a prophet who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah whose sandals he was not fit to carry. He proclaimed that the Messiah will baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. When Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John, he tried to deter Jesus, saying Do you come to me for I need to be baptized by you? We can see that John realized the identity of Jesus as the Messiah for which all Israelites had waited.
However, in prison, John asked Jesus, “Give us more data so that we can believe in you!” Why did John send his disciples to ask this question? There are various explanations. Someone think that John might have a question, “if Jesus is really God’s messiah and good news from God for the world, why am I still suffering and living with pain in this dark prison?”
Or, someone might think that he was in prison and it could be the last moment for him. He might want to make sure that Jesus was the real Messiah. For him as well as the other Israelites, the coming of God’s Messiah was the greatest Good news at that time. John, as the forerunner who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, wanted to make sure he was correct.
Both explanations are reasonable. Right? But I have another answer to this question, an answer to drive us to look at ourselves in our life situation. Before answering the question, we need to see Jesus’ answer first. Jesus sent John’s disciples to answer the question as follows,
“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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Do you see the point of Jesus’ answer?
John was in prison. It was dark and disconnected from the world. This figuratively means that John was blind and deaf in the prison. He couldn’t see Jesus’ ministry or hear any good news from him. The prison made John blind and deaf.
For John, Jesus sent witnesses who saw Jesus’ ministry and heard the good news from God, so that John could open his closed eyes and ears in the prison.
Without being able to see for himself, John could grasp the larger messianic meaning of Jesus’ ministry through his disciples. Jesus responds with a direct appeal to their senses, “Go and tell John what you hear and see.”
John’s question is the question for all of us, who live in the 21st century. We might live in prison where we cannot see the grace and love of Jesus and where we cannot hear the good news from him. We might live in prison where it is too hard for us to keep the good news in our minds. In the prison, our senses become dull.
The challenge for us in Advent is to allow Jesus to restore our senses, to have him open our eyes and ears, so that we can go and tell others what we hear and see. Admittedly, from the darkness of our prison cells, it can be hard for us to grasp the larger messianic meaning of Jesus’ ministry. That is the problem with the darkness; we lose our way, becoming blind and deaf to the fact that the kingdom of God is all around us.
Jesus is coming to light the darkness in order to open our eyes and ears as he did for John. We don’t know what happened to John immediately after this message. There is no record of it. However, we can guess what might have happened to John before he was killed. With the conviction and excitement that Jesus is the Messiah from God, he might have sent his disciples to the world so that they could spread what they saw and what they heard. Based on his life stories in the gospels, I can draw this picture. If my guess is right, then we can imagine our role as Christians in the Advent season.
Obviously, according to the message of Isaiah, the good news of Advent is that “the people who walked in darkenss have seen a great light.” It is the increasing light of Advent that can help us cut through holiday haze and prepare us to welcome the one who is coming.
Today, through the message of Matthew, God invites us to open our eyes to see the light of the world, so that we can see the true needs for ourselves as well as our neighbors. Thankfully, we come to church to see and to hear God’s good news. However, some of our neighbors do not. How can they open their eyes and ears to the good news from God?
Here is an interesting story. In January of 2007, The Washington Post videotaped the reactions of commuters at a D.C. Metro (subway) stop to the music of a violinist. The overwhelming majority of the 1000 commuters were too busy to stop. A few did, briefly, and some of those threw a couple of bills into the violin case of the street performer. No big deal, just an ordinary day. Except it wasn’t an ordinary day. The violinist wasn’t just another street performer; he was Joshua Bell, one of the most famous violinists in the world, playing his multi-million dollar Stradivarius. Three days earlier he had filled Boston’s Symphony Hall with people paying a hundred dollar per seat to hear him play similar pieces. The question the Post author and many others since have asked is simple: Have we been trained to recognize beauty outside of the contexts where we expect to encounter beauty? Or, to put it another way, can we recognize great music anywhere outside of a concert hall?
I’d like to ask a similar question of the Washington Post author. Can our neighbors detect God only when God is surrounded by the walls of the church and the sound of the organ music? Can our neighbors recognize the beauty of living within God’s grace and love? I’m afraid that most can’t. This is why Jesus sent disciples and commanded them to tell what they saw and what they heard.
Let me wrap up today’s sermon with my experience as a student pastor of my last church. Every Christmas, we had a project to support the people in Nicaragua, especially the children who needed clean water. All the children in the church were engaged in making a few hundred cards. We sold them to the church members and raised some money. Then, we sent the money to UMCOR which is an organization of the United Methodist Church, which serve the poor around the world. They are well known as a group to send 100 % of donations to the mission place. The children took part in helping the poor. The church members took part in the mission by buying the cards. And UMCOR, the organization of the UMC, took part in directing the mission to share the light for the world.
The Chilmark Community Church is involved in this kind of mission. We have committed ourselves to our neighbors by fulfilling mission share ministry. We have supported our neighbors by hosting Flea Market and Lobster Rolls. We have served our neighbors through pizza night, soup supper and various ways. I am sure that God has nurtured and supported us so far. We need to give thanks to God for it. God will tell us, “Good job!”
Our mission in this community should be continued in order for us to remain as a church where God reigns. 2014 is around the corner. And we need to be ready to light the darkness. Let us together pray for the future missions of our church. Let us together take action. Jesus tells us, “Go and tell what you see and what you hear.
Let us pray. Dear Lord, we are here again to worship you. We give thanks to you for having supported our missions in 2013. We give thanks to you for having been with us. And now again, we pray to you for granting us faith and your wisdom so that we can continue our missions for our neighbors in 2014. Bless us to be the light to shine in the darkness. In your name, we pray. Amen.