Are you the one we have been waiting for?

johnthebaptist

 

Humor me. If you can, find a plastic straw. Close one eye and look through the straw at something across the room. I asked my parishioners to join me in this little exercise a few weeks ago, and you should have seen 150 of them all looking through a straw at the rose-colored stained glass window at the front of our church. At first they had that, “You’ve got to be kidding me” look … and then one by one they put their straw to their eye. I asked them to focus on the stained glass window and take in all the details. The colors of the petals, the shape of the window, the rose at the center. After they had seen the details of the window, I asked them to lower the straw and take in the entire view of the sanctuary. The choir. The altar. The ministers. The blue Advent banners with the words: hope, love, peace and joy. The distinction was clear. Through the straw they could see tiny detail; and without the straw they could see the full horizon.

On the Third Sunday of Advent, the Gospel was Matthew 11:1-5:

After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, He went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, John sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one we have been waiting for? Or are we to await another?

Jesus reported back to John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk again, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to new life and those who are poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

I’ve shared often that John the Baptist is my favorite character in all of scripture. In the passage above, John is in prison. He’s done such a superlative job as a prophet, sent by God, to tell all the world to repent, to turn away from sin, and to prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah, that he has royally ticked off King Herod and the King’s wife, Herodias.

Herodias used to be married to Herod’s brother, but she and Herod fell in love. So after divorcing his own wife, Herod married Herodias, which was incestuous. John called them out. Herod put John in jail; and it is here where the Gospel of Mathew picks up.

Have you ever been in jail? Done something so wrong that the best judicial system in the world said that putting you behind bars was the best response to your deed. Jail sucks. I can assure you. Not because I have done time myself, but because I have visited countless people in countless jails over the past 35 years of working for God. Jail is awful. 6 X 8 feet of cold isolation from everyone you ever knew and loved, and everything you ever cared about or did.

In John’s day prison was probably a cave, but still, the isolation, fear, stench could get to anyone.

John knew full well who Jesus was. They were cousins. John baptized Jesus. When he did so John, like everyone else around him, saw the sky turn colors, the clouds separate, saw a figure like that of a dove, and heard the heavenly voice of God proclaim, “This is my beloved Son, on whom my favor rests, listen to Him.”  John knew all this.

But from within his jail cell, far away from the forests and desert where he used to love and live … like any one of us would do, John began to question whether he got this right, or not.

It was as if John were looking at his life as if viewed through one end a plastic drinking straw. All he could see was danger. All he could feel were rocks. His disciples were near enough to communicate with John, but in his sorrow, in his despair, he sent them to ask Jesus if he (John) got this right.

Jesus responded to John’s disciples’ question with, in essence, “Go back and tell John he did well. John got it right. He did a great job. Period.”  Jesus said, ““Go back to John and tell him what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk again, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to new life and those who are poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

In other words: Lower. The. Straw. John. Look around. You did your job masterfully and now I am doing mine.

Ever been there? Been in such crisis that you cannot see the forest through the trees? Your child got sick last night … so sick that you had to take her to the hospital and you are scared to death she has cancer. You don’t know what’s wrong, and the doctors don’t seem to know either. You have gone from “she’s throwing up” to “she’s gonna die.”  And she’s just six years old. HELP HER God DAMNIT. Help Her. Please. You scream at any one who will listen to you. All you can do is see your world through the size of a drinking straw.

Or ever been here? Your boss called you into her office and she said she loves you and your work, but that it’s the end of the year and management told her sales are down and they have to reconfigure their sales team, down size. Before you know it, you’re handed a pink slip. You have a son in college and you’re separated from his Dad and you’re thinking “This doesn’t feel much like Christmas,” to say the least. All you can do is see your world through the size of a drinking straw.

Or ever been here? You love your girlfriend and several weeks ago things got a little hot and heavy and sort of got out of hand and you just got a text from her saying, “I’m late.”  And you’re thinking, “Late to what?”  Until she reminds you what that metaphor stands for and you go pale and now you want to throw up and then you do … throw up. All you can do is see your world through the size of a drinking straw.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Hold on.

Just breathe.

Yes, for sure, you have to address whatever is the main focus through your straw right now. Rightfully address whatever the crisis is. That’s what we do, and you have to do that right now. Take care of the crisis.

But while you are addressing whatever emergency has come your way, remember to lower your straw. Slow down. Breathe deep and take in the world around you.

There are doctors, specialists, loved ones and neighbors all around you who love your daughter too and are standing by waiting to help.

Breathe deep.

Remember that while this job may be coming to an end, you have a wonderful son who is about to come home for Christmas. Together you will wake up Christmas morning and see that the only gift you ever really needed is knowing the other is still here, right next to you, as you navigate through this next chapter of your life.

Breathe deep.

And remember that no matter whether that EPT comes back pink or clear, together with God, you can handle whatever is coming your way.

Breathe deep.

See what is within your straw. Address whatever it is you need to focus on now.

And then lower the straw.

You are not alone. 

You never have been.  Just say the word and an army of angels will move in whatever direction you need them too.

Because, friends, Jesus is the one we have been waiting for. He is the big picture beyond the narrow view of our drinking straw.

He’s been knocked down, betrayed, turned against in His innocence, knocked out, and gotten up again countless times. He gets it. And He’s there, next to you. Next to me.

He is the one we’ve been waiting for. Don’t do life without Him. He came near to be let in.

Let Him in.

Peace friends, 

Chuck

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6 Comments

  • Mary Jane Masciola says:

    Just wonderful, Chuck,….keep reminding us that our Lord is always with us…through it all. Blessings to you and yours at this special time of year.
    Peace, Shalom, Salem, MJ

  • Kathy McCleary says:

    Ah my friend…while you always speak from your heart in this reflection you speak from the very center of your soul. God bless you this day, this moment, this Christmas…You have let him in…

  • Elizabeth Curtiss Smith says:

    Wonderful thoughts Chuck~ especially this week..
    Thank you and peace
    Currie

  • Kate Ouellette Finamore says:

    This couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you ( I type through tears).

  • Shelly Greenfield says:

    Chuck, once again you’ve expressed our very real and human experience and how we can step back and see the bigger picture. I appreciate this piece on John the Baptist. He’s my favorite, too.

    Merry Christmas!

    Shelly

  • R. Scott Krejci says:

    Chuck,
    Thank you for focusing on Jesus! He is the one were waiting for and he is present. I wish you a blessed Christmas with your family and parishioners.
    Scott

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