What did you come to see?
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, December 15, 2013.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to speak and live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
What did you come to see?
Jesus asks a variation of this question four times in this morning’s Gospel lesson, so: it’s probably a pretty important question for us to look at this morning. What did you come to see?
Jesus first asks the question of John’s disciples. Jesus went out, teaching in the disciples’ home towns (see Matthew 11:1). Crowds were beginning to gather and news got back to John the Baptist of Jesus’ teaching. So John, from prison, sends a few of his disciples to find out if Jesus really is the Messiah.
There’s an interesting observation to be made that what John knew in the womb as he jumped for joy when Mary met his mother Elizabeth (see Luke 1:41), he had forgotten as an adult. That which the infant knew for certain, the adult John doubted. Perhaps there was something about Jesus that didn’t seem right. Perhaps, Jesus wasn’t living up to John’s expectation. Perhaps, the persecution John was now experiencing was causing him to question his own message.
Imprisoned by Herod, facing the likelihood of torture or even death, the prophet and his disciples wonder if what he’s been announcing— “one coming after me who will baptize with fire and Spirit” – has actually come to pass in the ministry and person of Jesus. After spending his life proclaiming, “It’s coming. He’s coming” and asking in his heart, “Are we there yet?” perhaps he was now wondering, “Is this all there is?”
Jesus has a dramatic answer that almost seems a non-answer. He does not say, “Yes, I’m the one.” Instead, he asks the disciples of John to look around them and see what’s happening—blind people seeing, lame people walking, deaf people hearing, lepers being cleansed, dead people being raised, poor people getting good news for a change.”
What did you come to see? Did you come to see someone pretending to be the Messiah? or did you come to see the Messiah? Did you come to bear witness to a day when the blind would see, the lame would walk, the deaf shall hear, and the dead be raised? Did you come to see the promises of God fulfilled or not? What did you come to see?
Jesus also asks the question of the crowd. When you came out to see John, what did you come to see? I’ll give you credit, says Jesus: you came out into the wilderness. You left a place of security to go to a barren land where thieves and marauders make their living and leave people to die. But, what did you make all that effort for? What did you come to see?
Did you come to see a “stalk blowing in the wind”? a person bending to the whims of a people’s prophetic imagination? Did you come to see a person dressed up in fine clothes? John surely didn’t meet your expectations did he? in his camel hair loin cloth and leather belt. Did you come to see a great prophet? If so, then you were on the right track. John, says Jesus, is “ 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” (Matthew 7:9-10, The Message). In all Jesus’ questioning the people about John, I can’t help but think that he’s asking them to ask the same questions of him. What did you come to see?
It’s a powerful question that our Gospel text for today begs us to answer: What did you come to see?
Sight is an interesting thing. Having sight and being able to see are not necessarily the same thing. People can look at the same thing and see very different things. That’s why eye-witness testimony is not the best evidence in the court of law. Why? Because we see what we want to see or are inclined to see based upon our expectations.
An argumentative person will always find something to argue about. A person who wants to find fault will find it. It was for this very reason that John Wesley encouraged all of his leaders to “believe evil of no one; unless you see it done, take heed how you credit it. Put the best construction on everything.” Think the best of everyone in every situation; because if you think the worst the worst will happen.
It’s a question that challenges us to evaluate our expectation and assumptions: what did you come to see?
We are in the third Sunday of Advent. We are just 10 days from Christmas. As we make final preparations for Christmas—I wonder what we’re making an effort to see? And, taking our cue from Jesus’ instructions to John’s disciples, I wonder what we’re helping others see.
The Christmas season is about making preparations for the welcoming Christ into our midst. It’s about preparing hearts and lives to receive the Good News of Jesus Christ. It’s about helping people see that just as God came into the world on a dark, cold, winter’s eve, so God will continue to meet us in the dark and cold winters in which we find ourselves. God has not abandoned the world.
What have you come to see? May we all have the eyes to see to see what God is doing and the courage to testify to it so that all might, in the words of Isaiah,
see the Lord’s glory,
the splendor of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and support the unsteady knees.
4 Say to those who are panicking:
“Be strong! Don’t fear!
Here’s your God…
God will come to save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf will be cleared.
6 Then the lame will leap like the deer,
and the tongue of the speechless will sing.
Waters will spring up in the desert,
and streams in the wilderness.
If only we’d have the eyes to see and the courage to testify, I know God’s vision given to Isaiah would surely come to pass. May we all make an effort to see it! especially as the day of Christ’s arrival approaches.
 “Planning: Third Sunday of Advent, Year A,” at GBOD.org < http://www.gbod.org/lead-your-church/lectionary-planning-helps/third-sunday-of-advent-year-a1> Accessed December 15, 2013.
 From “Minutes of Several Conversations between the Rev. Mr. Wesley and others; from the year 1744, to the year 1789” in The Works of John Wesley: Complete and Unabridged, 3rd ed., vol. 8 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 309-310.