Matt. 11:2-11
Advent 3

The Jews were looking for a Messiah. They had been through tough times: two exiles, civil wars and countless conquerors. Time and again prophets had arisen and called them to more careful observance of the law. Isaiah and others looked for a Messiah, a ruler who would raise up the nation. In the wilderness John the Baptist called for repentance and announced the coming of the Messiah. From prison he sent messengers to ask if Jesus were the promised one. Jesus replied that the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them - messianic signs. Some doubted John. Jesus asked, “What do you want? A prophet in rich clothes, living in luxury and driving a Jaguar?” John in his animal skins is great, but those who enter the kingdom, who follow Jesus, are even greater.

Now I want to tell you a story. My wife, Faye, is doing workshops all over the state. She is part of The Connecticut Writing Project, which teaches teachers how to teach reading and writing. Faye has been doing extensive workshops in a town which is a good two hours drive from here. Last Friday she got up early and drove in the rain to start a workshop at 8:30 a.m. Faye has taught for 35 years, and she has taught at all grade levels, K-12. Friday she was giving a demonstration workshop, teaching six-year-olds, first graders. The unit was to teach them what a question is. What is it that makes a question as well as how to punctuate it. Now you have to get that complicated concept over to the kids, and it usually takes more imagination than just reading a Webster’s Dictionary definition to them. So the night before Faye made large cardboard question marks, which she pasted on l8 in sticks for the kids to act out being a question. In class the kids loved it and the teachers were mesmerized.

Afterwards a little black boy, Shawn, came up to her. Shawn was a very active kid. “I’d like you to come to my house and see my mother,” he said. “Oh, I don’t know where you live,” Faye replied. “Why don’t you have here come to school?” “I want you to see her because she says that I do bad in school. That’s what they tell her. And you said twice today that I did good. I want you to tell her that I did good!” Here was a little boy who was only told that he was bad. Can you imagine what he will be like when he is twelve? Where do you think he will be when he is eighteen?

Now that evening I worked on a survey that I am doing as a project on interim ministry. I wrote a survey and sent it to twenty-two interim ministers. I received back an email from a man who had trained me for the priesthood. He said that my survey was stupid, the questions irrelevant and a waste of time. I felt like Shawn. But I was old enough to realize that the man wasted a chance to make a friend. He could have made some helpful suggestions and also pointed out what was good as well as bad. I would have grown and he would have been both helpful and charitable. Another priest answered my survey and was really helpful. I felt like a new person! She acted like a real priest - an intercessor in learning and spiritual growth.

On a superficial level, I am saying “For God’s sake as Christians affirm one another. Be constructive and positive. On an other level my message is that as you and I approach Christmas, we metaphorically carry our cardboard questions before us. We know that we are bad and that we fail. But we are not flogged by the Law nor by a Messiah who seeks grandeur and glory, retribution and punishment. We come to the inn at Christmas to celebrate the incarnation of a gracious and compassionate God. We come to the birth of one who gives sight to the blind, cleanses the lepers, helps the deaf to hear, raises the dead and brings good news to the poor. This is a Messiah of good tidings - one who does not tell us that we are constantly bad, but tells us that we can be good - are good in Him. This is one who is God incarnate, who walks along with us, as we carry our big question marks on our faith journey. In Jesus you and I receive those very things which Shawn so desperately needs. You and I receive affirmation, love and hope. Amen.