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Matthew 11:2-11

On this third Sunday of Advent a candle of a different color is lit. The last two weeks purple candles were lit and adorn the Advent wreath, but today a pink candle has its turn and reminds the gathered community that today is a day for focus on the word, “Joy.”

My mom used to tell me when I was a kid that I could choose the attitude I wanted to have for the day. I knew she meant that I could choose to have a good attitude as she would say this to me in moments when I was having a particularly bad attitude. I never really liked hearing her say that and found it to be quite annoying. However, as I have gotten older and now have children of my own, I can now see the wisdom in what she said. She was saying that I can choose, even though circumstances may be difficult, to have a good attitude. The word “Joy” is similar in this way. We can choose to be people of “Joy” or we can choose to be bitter, frustrated, and constantly negative.

The passage from today is about John the Baptism and interestingly he is patron saint of spiritual joy!

In Luke 1:13-14, the telling of John’s birth to Elizabeth and Zechariah goes as follows, “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth’” (NRSV). John was associated with joy even from before the time of his birth.

If this day, this third Sunday of Advent, is a day set aside to focus on “Joy” then it seems those who initially selected the lectionary passages really messed up.

Here is John the Baptist, patron saint of spiritual joy, questioning Jesus by saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3 NRSV).


Is this the same John the Baptist who earlier said: “the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal” (John 1:27 NRSV)?

Is this the same John the Baptist who said: “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8 NRSV)?

Is this the same John the Baptist who witnessed when “the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16b-17)?

Is this the same John the Baptist who “leaped in [Elizabeth’s] womb” when Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice? (Luke 1:41)

If so, then why on earth is John questioning Jesus in such a way? Also, how is the gathered community supposed to find any joy in the midst of this line of questioning?

John’s circumstances changed since he said and did the things listed above. John was in prison. Prison was not a destination at that time, but a holding place, a time of uncertainty, and a time of waiting. John was waiting to find out if he would be set free, sentenced, or killed.

Prison and uncertainty provoked John to ask a question that, if many of us were honest with ourselves, we also want to ask… “are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:4)

Put another way… “are you the real deal, Jesus?”

John, the greatest of all prophets (Matthew 11:9), of whom Jesus said there was no one greater born of women (Matthew 11:11), questioned Jesus because of unmet expectations. John was stuck in prison. Perhaps he thought, “certainly the Messiah will set me free! After all I have done to prepare the way of the Messiah, surely he will set me free.”

Jesus responds by not providing a direct answer. Instead, Jesus tells the disciples of John to bear witness to what they have seen and heard. Jesus said, “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 miracles are found in Old Testament passages that were known to be passages that foretold of the coming Messiah (Isaiah 26:19; 29:18; 35:5–6; 42:18; 53:4; and 61:1).

So, in a round about way, Jesus does answer the question. There is evidence of what he is saying and doing that point to Jesus being the Messiah.

That is all well and good, but it begs the question, how does the story end? How does John receive this response from Jesus?

We don’t get to find out, but it is interesting to speculate. Perhaps John needed to go from being the one who went ahead and prepared the way for Christ to being a follower and disciple of Christ.

We do know that John was later killed (Matthew 14:1-12) and so he was not delivered from his trials and sufferings in the way he had hoped. I think it appropriate to imagine that John the Baptist, the patron saint of spiritual joy, now finds his joy complete in the presence of God.

What does this all mean for the gathered community in this season of Advent?

Perhaps it is a reminder to us that, yes, this life is full of suffering, but that as we anticipate the birth of Christ in Advent, we also anticipate the coming of Christ again. The coming of Christ where the New Creation will bear beautiful fruit and all things will be made new.

Our current sufferings do not get the last word because God is God of life, resurrection, hope, faith, JOY, and peace.

So, yes, we can find joy in the midst of our sufferings, we can be the joy that this world needs as we follow after Christ. We can do so because Christ IS the one who was promised and we do NOT need to wait for another.

Thanks be to God.