Jesus asked the crowd, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?”
And not just look at, but what did you go to hear, to feel, to experience? That is Jesus question. It is a question of the gap that lies between expectation and experience.
And so I ask you, “What did you come to church to look at this morning?”
What were you hoping to see, to feel, to hear? Why did you come?
Now when Jesus confronted the crowd with this question about what the people went to look at he also threw a couple of rhetorical questions at them as well, which also challenge and help us think about the issue of why we are here.
He asked “Did you go to see a reed shaken by the wind?”
This strange image of a reed blowing in the wind mirrors Paul’s writing when he warns about being blown about by the winds of doctrine. So Jesus is asking the people whether they expected to go and hear someone speaking about the so-called ‘relevant’ issues. The image of the shaken reed is the image of a preacher who goes with flow, who goes with what people want to hear. And those who go to hear such a prophet are not really going to listen for a new message but to have their particular slant on things confirmed.
This is a confronting image for me as a minister and you as a congregation. Do I simply preach to what I think you want to hear? Do I go with the flow? And how can I tell the difference? And for you do you come to listen for God’s message? Or do you have a message already prepared, even though you may not realise it, and hope that your ideas will be confirmed by what I say?
What did the people go to look at if not a shaken reed? Jesus implies John’s message, his prophecy, is not blown about by the winds of doctrine and change but is a message that stands firm because John speaks God’s message. Regardless of how well I think I do it, it is my prayer that the power of the Holy Spirit is at work in our midst, even in spite of me, opening our eyes and ears, opening our hearts and minds to the good news of Jesus Christ.
Jesus goes on to ask whether the people went out to see someone in soft robes. The soft robes here are a sign of power and authority displayed in wealth and the symbols of status like the palaces. Jesus is disconnecting the images of power and authority from wealth. The kings and their palaces and all their displays of wealth pale in comparison with what is at work through John.
So the question is raised for us what did we come to look at? Did we come to have Jesus lordship confirmed by the beauty of a building, or the woodwork, or the worldly signs and symbols of power and authority, so often displayed through wealth? This is a confronting question for all Christians as we see the immense resources that have gone into building the great churches of the world. How do these churches and the displays of wealth that the churches have reflect the rags that John the Baptist wore for it was he through whom God spoke? What questions might this raise for us in the use of our resources?
This brings me to Jesus third question; did you go out to see a prophet? Yes, but Jesus declares that John is more than a prophet. Why is John more than a prophet? John is the hinge on which the dawn of the new age swings as he announces Jesus the Christ’s presence in the world. John stands as the last prophet before the Messiah and announces the coming of the Messiah into the world. John prepares the way for Jesus in whom the kingdom of heaven comes near.
John as the last prophet points away from himself and at the coming one who will bring the salvation of God with him. Looking at John, hearing his message, is to look away from John and to look at Jesus Christ.
This is the good news and when John heard of what Jesus was doing he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one. That was the opening of our reading this morning and Jesus response is to echo the words of Isaiah. “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.”
These words confirm Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and so when people hear John’s message they look to Jesus. That is what the people went into the wilderness to look at, to look at the message of the coming Christ and find hope in that, and the Messiah was coming.
So what do we look at? We too look beyond ourselves and beyond me and my words and we look at Jesus: Jesus the Christ who has come and will come again. This is what our worship revolves around looking beyond the limits our experiences and encounters to the promise and the hope of the coming kingdom and celebrating our hope in this coming kingdom with joy.
Our prayers reflect this hope, our reading of the scriptures, our fellowship with one another and our sharing at the table all point beyond themselves to Jesus who points us to our promised home with the Father. Jesus entry into human life, his death for our sake, his resurrection and his ascension are the completion of our salvation and through the Holy Spirit we are made one with him and each other and our eyes are lifted glistening with hope in the promise that he will come again.
So we have spoken of what we came to look at? We have discussed what we might have actually seen? And now having looked again at the promise of God in Jesus Christ, seeing the straight path as it were, the question is how will you and I live in the light of this message?
You see our hope doesn’t end at 9:15 or thereabouts when the service concludes. As we go from this place we enter God’s world having encountered and experienced the presence of the coming kingdom in Jesus Christ. We have been remind of our hope in the Lord. How does that change how you will live this week with other people? How will it change the daily grind? Will it alter the words you speak and the thoughts that you have? How will God be at work in you through the power of the Holy Spirit?
As we continue our advent journey as we wait with hope, peace and joy consider the week ahead and what it might mean for you that you have seen the coming of the Lord.
What did you actually see; what did you experience; what did you feel?
What are you going to do in response to what you have seen?