Okay folks. Here we are. Just   days and counting. Are you ready? Are you ready yet? Got your shopping done? Your cards and letters written, addressed, stamped and mailed? How are you doing? There’s not much time left. So you’d better get ready.
You’ve got to agree that no matter how things are going for you in your preparations right now, this is indeed an exciting time of the year. But for most of us, it can also be downright hectic. And if you’ve got little children in your house – or children of any age at your house – that’s even more true. I know. I’ve been there. I have two sons of my own. Even though they are both in their late 20’s now, I know what it’s like. Christmas brings with it an anticipation – an excitement – unlike any other time of the year. We’re getting ready for something. Something big. And our old friend John the Baptist is back to remind us of what it is we’re getting ready for.
We met John last week, with his fiery message of repentance. Today, we find that John is in prison. He is guilty of charging the local king, King Herod, with adultery. And he was right. The Herod in question is not Herod the Great – the Herod that the wise men run into from the Christmas story found in Matthew’s gospel. No, this is Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas. He has an affair with his brother’s wife – has his brother killed – and marries his brother’s wife. So John lets Herod Antipas know just how wrong he was to do that – and of course, it lands him in Herod’s jail.
But in spite of the fact that John is saying things that get him into trouble with Herod – John’s primary function is to serve as a messenger – a messenger preparing a way for the coming of the Messiah. And let me just remind you once again that the word “Messiah” is Hebrew for “The anointed One” – so Jesus – God’s Messiah – is God’s anointed one. And in Greek, the word becomes Xristos – and that of course is why we in English have come to know him as Jesus the Christ. Christ is not His last name, but his title – Jesus the Christ – or Jesus the Messiah.
The prophets had been announcing the coming of Messiah for centuries. The one promised by God – a Savior – who would come and deliver God’s people from darkness, injustice, tyranny. So that’s the first thing I want us to see today. God sends a Savior. The reason why this is such a wonderful season – a season of great joy – is that it reminds us that a Savior has come. And that’s what John has been telling everybody. John knows about the Messiah – the promise of a coming Savior.
And one day, Jesus comes along, and John sees him and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In other words, “There He is. The One who is to come. The Messiah – the Savior has come.” And Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River, and immediately, the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and the voice of God the Father proclaims, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” This is not an ordinary baptism!
The second thing I want us to see is that when Jesus comes as Messiah – as the Savior – not everyone recognizes him. Today we find that even John is having second thoughts. You’ve gotta wonder if somehow John has forgotten all that stuff that happened with Jesus down there by the river. And he sends a few of his followers to ask Jesus if he really is the one to come – in other words, if he is the Messiah – or are we to wait for another?
And Jesus says, “You go and tell John what you see and hear. 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 preached to them.” Well, hey! Aren’t these things the very things that the prophet Isaiah said would happen when Messiah came? Well, yeah. You can read it for yourself again in Isaiah 35.
You see, even John expresses doubts. Which is quite understandable. John is under some stress. After all, you would be too if you were in prison with the likelihood that Herod might hand you your head on a platter.
You know what it’s like to be under stress from time to time. You do and so do I. It’s those dark moments in life. Moments sometimes when it feels like God has abandoned you. Or at least is silent. “I prayed and prayed, and God didn’t answer my prayers,” we say. Well, it isn’t that God hasn’t answered your prayers. It’s just that God hasn’t answered your prayers the way you want God to answer your prayers. Remember? Sometimes God says yes. Sometimes God says no. And sometimes God says “Not now. Wait.”
Sometimes the answers we get are not what we expected. And sometimes we have our doubts. Well, you know something?? When that’s the case, it’s good to know we’re in good company. John also has his doubts. But he doesn’t sit on his doubts. He asks. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
I wonder, even after all John experienced with Jesus, if he had doubts because Jesus was not what he expected. Maybe John was expecting – along with the rest of Israel at the time – a different kind of Messiah. “I’m in Herod’s stinking prison, Jesus. Maybe now would be a good time to show your stuff, and rescue me. Overthrow Herod. Overthrow the Romans. Set the people free.”
Maybe Jesus was not what he expected. Jesus does not come on a horse or chariot ready to do battle. He is not a conquering hero who has come to overthrow the Romans. No. The reason why we have – every year – an Advent and a Christmas – is to remind everyone that Messiah – Jesus – Christ – does not come as a conquering general. He comes to us – he comes to us as a child. A baby. And maybe that’s not what we expected either. But it is by first coming as a child that he is able to change everything.
The trouble back when Jesus walked the earth is that most folks didn’t recognize him. Now I can understand that. There are a lot of folks walking around today who don’t recognize him either.
As I said earlier, this time of year can be hectic. Sometimes that alone might keep us from recognizing Jesus for who he is. Let me share with you the story of a woman who was Christmas shopping with her children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable, and after hours of hearing both of her kids wanting everything they saw in the store, she finally made it to the elevator. She was feeling – like so many of us do – the stress of the season. You know, parties to go to, food to prepare – and to eat – cookies to bake – cards to send, taking great care to send one to everyone who sends you one – getting the perfect gift or gifts for everyone on your list. She was just feeling overwhelmed.
Finally the elevator doors opened and there was already a crowd on the elevator. She pushed her way in with her kids and all their bags of stuff. When the doors closed, she couldn’t take it anymore and stated, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up, and shot.”
From the back of the car everyone heard a quiet, calm voice respond, “Don’t worry. We already crucified him.” For the rest of the trip down, the elevator was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
God promised a Savior. Not a general. Not a conquering hero on a horse. When the Savior came – and even as he comes to us today – some still don’t recognize him. BUT – the good news is – that for those who do recognize him, he changes their lives.
This Advent/Christmas season – let me remind you of these things once again
1 – We have the promise of a coming Messiah – the Christ – a Savior.
2 – In Jesus we have the fulfillment of that promise.
3 – Not everyone recognizes him. But to those who do recognize him, he has the power to change lives.
And that’s kind of a slogan we use around here at this time of year. “We tell the story because His story can change your story.”
The question is – will you accept – will you receive – this Messiah – this Jesus into your hearts and your lives and your homes? To – prepare – a place for him there? Will you let him be what he was meant to be? Not a conquering hero – but one who conquers sin, death and the power of the devil – not on a horse – but on a cross – for you?
Jesus might not always be what we expected. And He might not always answer every prayer the way you want them to be answered. And when you think about it, that’s a good thing. If we expect Jesus to be like a kind of cosmic Santa Claus who gives us whatever we ask for – then we have the wrong idea of who He is and why He came.
No. I declare to you today that Jesus the Messiah has come. And he still comes today – to make a difference – in your life and mine. And that is the reason why he came – to change lives – to forgive sins – and to show you just how much the Father does love you.
In all of your busyness – in all of your preparations – in your purchases – in your greetings – and in your gatherings – hold Jesus at the center of everything you do. He loves you. And wants to be with you. Even when it feels like he is absent or is silent – he is there, and he cares for you.
Make room for him in your life, will you? Let him change your life – today.