Yesterday we met fiery John the Baptizer, calling 1st century Judaism to radical repentance to prepare for the coming of Messiah. John used baptism reinterpreted as God’s vehicle to obliterate sin as his primary strategy to effect that repentance. And John always spoke truth to power, and as usual, power didn’t appreciate the commentary. Much later in the Gospels, John is imprisoned (the Herodian family tree is so cravenly predictable!) awaiting immanent execution. Rotting in his cell, with death looming, we meet a very different Baptizer. No more water, no more thunder, no more crowds streaming out of Jerusalem, no more locusts and wild honey in Galilean penal squalor. John is older now, and humbled. He sends his remaining disciples to Jesus with a haunting existential question each of us will one day ask of our Lord if we are honest. Are you the one promised by God to come, John’s terse and anguished appeal asks, or are we to await for someone else?! Even typing this out gives me physical heart hurt to narrate. More colloquially…Jesus are you really who you claim you are? Are you truly from God? Is God really real and to be trusted, now, just before I face the final exam with no recess afterwards? Have I just wasted my entire life and deceived everyone I’ve ever taught?!
Oh. The plaintive force of this appeal must have cut Jesus to the heart, because He immediately responds to John’s disciples. Go back to your master and tell him what you are witnessing firsthand as we talk! The blind can see, the deaf can now hear, the lame walk, and blessed is anyone not offended that God is revealing Himself to us in miracles like these! I always see immense loving care in Jesus’ face as He sends John’s disciples back quickly to reassure John in the prophet’s final moments, the same disciples who will faithfully risk their own lives by courageously taking what’s left of John’s body to bury after his beheading. In short, Jesus essentially replies, Yes, dear cousin! I am who you think, God is who you trust, your life has been honest, and die with trusting comfort.
While John the ascetic, the thundering apocalyptic (love that word!), the Baptizer gets all the press, I feel so intimately connected to this John, near his end, asking the existential questions which define us as humans. And we have the Apostle hung with the unfair title “the Doubter” coming up in a few days, Thomas, who simply asked for a little visible evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, and this John dodges the derogatory nickname when pleading with Jesus to prove His reality?! Is Advent not a perfect moment to sit in utter darkness, look up at the ceiling or out the window to a starlit sky, and ask God is He is really there? If the Christ we proclaim and to whom we have committed our own lives through Holy Baptism is who He claimed to be? Is all this not only true but trustworthy? The great prophet who called an entire generation to repentance is himself called to repent before the axe lands at his own tree! John’s life teaches us the deep spiritual truth that repentance, mortality and trust are entwined inextricably with Christian faith. Isn’t it time to look our Lord squarely in His face and ask Him the same question? And then wait for His answer?