*Sermon text is Matthew 11: 2-11
I’m usually “happy go lucky” about weather, but in the winter I tend to check Accuweather a little more often, especially to see if weather will impact the weekend services. As I checked things this week, I saw something of interest, something that made me groan—today’s sunrise: 7:29 AM. Today’s sunset: 4:48 PM. That’s a whole 9:19 minutes of sunlight and that’s unacceptable. And it will continue to get worse until the winter solstice on December 21st, the shortest day of the year.
December is just so dark. It’s no wonder why we hang strings of lights on our homes, brightly decorate our Christmas trees, light Advent wreaths, and gather together during this time of year for carols and parties. In the Northern Hemisphere we do these things not just for the sheer joy of the season, but to stave off the darkness crowding our lives and bringing in Seasonal Affective Disorder.
I think that’s worth remembering because we are surrounded by messages to be happy at this time of year. From magazines to made for TV movies, from internet ads to Christmas cards—every message tells us to experience the joy of the season.
Inevitably we will experience disappointment. The turkey will be dry, the parking lots will be in total anarchy, and that once promising present wrapped under the tree will turn out to be a package of socks, or underwear…joy. And the church can disappoint too. Maybe our neighbor’s singing will be off pitch, or the sermon will be long and dull, and the crowd at the candlelight service might seem a little thinner than in years past.
And in the grand scheme of things, these are minor disappointments. A read an article not long ago written by a therapist who wrote that she makes extra room in her calendar in the month of December because loss is magnified during this season of light. The empty places at the dining table cannot be ignored. Job loss and debt are revealed in the scarcity of presents of the meagerness of the feast. When there is no joy and comfort, faith tends to falter.
Church tradition holds that John the Baptist was born days after the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, on June 24. John is six months older than Jesus. He was quick enough to leap in his mother’s womb when the pregnant Mary visited Elizabeth. John is a dynamic man of judgment and light. John’s brightness reveals sin; his prophecy calls for fire.
But John is very different in this week’s gospel. He is alone in a dark, dank prison cell. In the blink of an eye the man who recognized Jesus as the Messiah seems to harbor doubts when he says, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?
It appears that Jesus is not what John had expected. It makes me wonder, when life hands us moments such as these, moments when our expectations have been dashed and our hopes turn to dust, how do we react and how does Jesus interact?
There are so many ways that we try to cope with life’s unmet expectations. This weekend at Zion, our Faith Partner group is helping to shed light on some of the darkest and destructive coping mechanisms that exist in our community today: addiction.
Addiction comes in many forms: alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, pornography, eating, shopping….In central Pennsylvania the most widely talked news item is the Opioid Epidemic that is destroying my generation. These addictions plague our community and impact so many lives beyond the life of the one who is addicted.
In our news we hear so much about the tragic overdoses that occur and claim lives. But what we do not hear about is the isolation and stigma that addiction brings on those who are addicted, and also for their friends and family. Downstairs on the bulletin board there is a section on abuse and stigma and I would encourage you to read that information. Because addiction is the most socially-disapproved of medical conditions, isolation only helps to push addicts away from help because of stigma and shame.
Like John the Baptist, feeling forgotten, and questioning Jesus, the addict may say, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another? Can I count on you, or do I have to find a substitute?”
One of the goals of the Faith Partners is to share that yes, Jesus is the one who is there for you and you do not need to wait for another. And yes, we as the church are there for you and you do not need to go through this alone—whether we are in connection with an addicted person or the loved one of an addicted person. Our goal is to help you find grace in your time of need, just as Jesus provided grace for all people in need.
Are you the one who is come or are we to wait for another?
No, Jesus was not what John expected. In Jesus there seems to be more feasting and less fasting; less condemnation and more grace; and in this moment John sees in Jesus more darkness and less light. John was ready to look for something else to fill the void.
But Jesus, on hearing the question, reminds all who hear his answer of how God is working through him and his ministry to restore people to what God truly intends for them. 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. Jesus is restoring the brokenness of this world and in him we see God at work. We do not need to wait for another, because in Jesus we find restoration and wholeness.
This message of hope and good news continues to ring true today. As we continue to wait for Jesus to come back to earth to bring about the fulfillment of his kingdom, there are times when all seems dark and lost, just like John felt wasting away in his prison cell. And yet, as Christians, as people of faith, we are called to share the message of hope that Jesus has for us. The darkness of our unmet expectations will not rule the day. Sin, brokenness, illness, injustice, addiction…they will not rule the day.
Jesus will rule this day. He will rehabilitate the brokenness of this entire creation. He will bring new life to parched places, new life where before we could only see chaos and destruction. For the grace of Jesus is more powerful than any sin or addiction we can muster. And as God’s people it is our job to share that message of hope where it is needed most.
Are you the one that who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
There is no need of a replacement, for in Jesus we find all of our expectations. Spread this message of light and life where it is needed most. Restore connection and hope where there is isolation and stigma. Share the good news that Jesus is here, and he is still working for us. AMEN