As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings. We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us. Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!
A reading from the Gospel According to Matthew.
John, meanwhile, had been locked up in prison. When he got wind of what Jesus was doing, he sent his own disciples to ask, “Are you the One we’ve been expecting, or are we still waiting?”
Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side. Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves most blessed!”
When John’s disciples left to report, Jesus started talking to the crowd about John. “What did you expect when you went out to see him in the wild? A weekend camper? Hardly. What then? A sheik in silk pajamas? Not in the wilderness, not by a long shot. What then? A prophet? That’s right, a prophet! Probably the best prophet you’ll ever hear. He is the prophet that Malachi announced when he wrote, ‘I’m sending my prophet ahead of you, to make the road smooth for you.’”
“Let me tell you what’s going on here: No one in history surpasses John the Baptizer; but in the Kingdom he prepared you for, the lowliest person is ahead of him. For a long time now people have tried to force themselves into God’s Kingdom. But if you read the books of the Prophets and God’s Law closely, you will see them culminate in John, teaming up with him in preparing the way for the Messiah of the Kingdom. Looked at in this way, John is the ‘Elijah’ you’ve all been expecting to arrive and introduce the Messiah.”
— Matthew 11:2-14 (The Message)
The Word of God for the people of God.
We looked briefly at this story in yesterday’s post. Jesus, defining for John’s disciples, the Kingdom of Heaven merely by pointing out what’s happening around them.
Notice, Jesus doesn’t say that Rome—their oppressors—are leaving. Jesus doesn’t say that they all suddenly have food to eat, clothes to wear, and roofs to protect them. Jesus doesn’t say that their external circumstances have changed.
Instead, Jesus points to the things that—despite the external circumstances—have changed. The lives that were one way and are now another. Things that had been broken have been fixed. Things that were missing have been found.
As we mentioned yesterday, it is critical that we understand that the gifts of Advent—hope, peace, joy, and love—are not contingent on the circumstances of which we find ourselves in the midst. The mess of life does not change the impact of the Kingdom. The Kingdom comes even in the messiest of messes. The Kingdom of God can break in no matter the depth of pain that you might be walking through.
For the early first century Jews, it looked impossible for the Messiah—the One whom they had been hoping for over a millennia would come—to arrive on the scene. They were oppressed. They were downtrodden. Their very cultural identity was—again—at stake. They were taxed unfair. They could be forced to labor at the mere whim of a soldier. They could be arrested for merely talking about how new leadership might make things better.
And, it was into this mess that John the Baptist was born and began his work.
People had heard the things that John was teaching in the wilderness. So, they went to see him. Unsure of what to expect, but surely not expecting camel hair clothes and locust snacks. Nevertheless, they came. And in their coming, they learned that the Kingdom was at hand. They learned that the culmination of thousands of years of prophecies and laws was nearly here.
The Messiah was coming. Hope was soon to be fulfilled.
And, then comes Jesus. Water turned to wine. Blind people see. Deaf people her. Fishermen become followers.
More important than those miraculous signs of the Kingdom (for the miraculous follows the Kingdom) was the message that He preached. His message wasn’t merely a message of rescue from hell. Rather, it was a message of wholeness. It was a message of completeness. It was the invitation to begin now to live in the Kingdom.
The Gospel that Jesus preached was the Gospel of the Kingdom. It was the Good News that Shalom—nothing missing, nothing broken—had come.
Yet, we must remember that Shalom can exist even when things around us are broken. It can thrive even when things are missing. Why? Because, shalom has nothing to do with the external things that surround it. Rather it has everything to do with the transformation of our lives.
And, so, John’s disciples come into the room wondering what they would find. I wonder if they felt similar feelings to when they went into the wilderness to hear John’s message. They enter the room. They ask their question.
Kingdom has come. External circumstances are still pretty bleak. John is still in prison (soon to be beheaded). Yet, they understand.
Kingdom has come.
And, now, we’re left with a similar charge as that which John—and his disciples—had. First, go and proclaim that the Kingdom is near at hand. Prepare the way for the King to enter into the messes of the world. Second, go and see how the Kingdom is changing lives in the midst of even the ugliest of situations.
Kingdom has come. Kingdom is coming.