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Matthew 11:2-11

It’s the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of JOY, and our gospel passage brings us the uncertain angst of an imprisoned prophet and reminds us that Jesus’ ministry is one that offended many, especially those in the soft robes of royalty. I don’t know about you, but a soft robe sounds kind of nice to me right about now. As the weather gets colder and the nights longer, we long for all things warm and cozy, but that is NOT what the lectionary delivers.

Jesus has sent out his disciples on a very intentional and specific mission (be sure to read Matthew 10 for the details). They are sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” to “proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’” to “cure the sick; raise the dead; cleanse those with a skin disease; cast out demons.” And to be careful because as a result of this work they are likely to find themselves flogged in synagogues and “dragged before governors and kings”.


John the Baptist hears about what Jesus and his disciples are up to and sends a message to Jesus from his prison cell, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” I wonder if in some sense he meant, “Are you coming?” Not sure if you’ve heard, Jesus, but I’ve been in prison for a bit and I could really use some Messiah energy over here. Is the kingdom coming or not!?

That is a question that is likely to resonate deeply with our congregations. Is the kingdom of heaven ever actually coming? We’ve put all our eggs in the Jesus basket, but we’re finding ourselves in very uncomfortable company. Every Advent we wait and long for the fullness of God’s kingdom on earth and every year we find ourselves back here again in a world full of violence and injustice, suffering and strife.

(Can someone please bring me a soft robe, a warm blanket, and a cup of hot chocolate…with extra marshmallows?)

While cozy hibernation might be our longing, John seemed to be looking for something more like salvation; fulfillment of all he had spent his life proclaiming. Jesus sent John’s disciples back to him with their own personal testimonies, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with a skin disease are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

“And,” Jesus adds…by the way…”blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

It may be helpful for the preacher to consider how you yourself (this will be the harder part) and those in your congregation might find yourselves offended by work that testifies to the coming of the kingdom of heaven in your own time and place. Where in our communities does good news for the poor mean bad news for me…my property value, my taxes? Are there situations where the inclusion of outsiders causes discomfort? Where we struggle to accept the formerly demon-possessed? Where newly opened eyes see too much?

Of course, tread lightly, as this IS the 3rd Sunday of Advent, and you don’t want to find yourself metaphorically flogged in the sanctuary…or in a firmly worded email on Monday morning (we all know it might happen anyway!)

But if this passage does its work on us, it should make us at least a little uncomfortable. Where in this text do we see ourselves and our people? Are we doing the kind of work Jesus gives as evidence of the coming Kingdom? Are we taking any risks for the sake of the gospel? Are we seeing, hearing, and bearing witness to God’s reign among us? Or have we been hibernating for a little too long, listening to those who wear soft robes in royal places, staying cozy in soft robes of our own, while the kingdom of heaven suffers violence in places near and far, even in our own communities?

If you’re also reading Mary’s prophetic song this week, there’s plenty to be explored there as an example of one who is not only unoffended by the coming of reign of God in Christ, but claims and proclaims her blessing in it, the uncomfortable joy of one who bears Christ into the world. Despite the clear discomfort and disruption it will bring to her personally, she understands that her discomfort is small compared to discomfort and disruption Christ will bring to the world, particularly to those in power, to the Empire and all who benefit from it, to the status quo.

For just a few minutes, in the midst of adorable pageants, familiar carols, and all things merry and bright, we’re called this week to sit at the feet of the imprisoned, scratchy-robed prophet, John, and long with him for the coming kingdom of God. May we listen to Jesus, look for signs, and find a renewed sense of our calling to join the ranks of those called to kingdom work. Knowing it’s risky business, may we choose the uncomfortable joy of proclaiming, “the kingdom of heaven has come near!”