When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
We usually think that we have it all figured out. We walk through our lives with grand plans and grand illusions of what the world should look like and what we should look like to the world. John was no different. He loved Jesus, loved the things that Jesus represented–freedom, peace, righteousness. And so he had set to work telling everyone how he saw it. But then all of a sudden, he realized that Jesus was doing things differently. Essentially, what Jesus was doing was not in the mold of what John had envisioned. John was going around preaching repentance in the face of what was surely the Kingdom of God coming soon. And here was Jesus healing and freeing and raising the dead. John probably didn’t see it as wrong—just sort of a waste of time. After all, in his view, there were people that needed redeeming, and redeemed NOW! We need to get busy. “Jesus, really, this was not quite what we were expecting!” So, he asks Jesus, “OK, are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (As if to imply that we may need to wait for someone that will get this show on the road and make everyone get on board the way we think it should be.)
Well, the truth as we know it is that Jesus WAS Emmanuel, Jesus WAS God Incarnate, Jesus WAS the Savior for which the world had waited for so long. The problem was that the world (and even John) could not see Jesus standing right in front of them because they were too busy looking for what they had expected. They had expected a mighty warrior. (Well, where was he?) They had expected a king to whom everyone would box. (Well, that wasn’t happening!) They had expected someone who would clean things up and make life easier. (And you want me to do WHAT? Hob-knob with the unacceptables and give up my place to those who haven’t worked for it and share my fortune with the less fortunate and essentially begin to go back down the ladder of progress to find what I’ve been missing?) Truth be told, the world was expecting a warrior politician and got a baby. Surely, THIS can’t be right! I mean, really, how can we put our trust and our faith in one who is essentially one of us? So, should we wait for another?
A few years ago, the Today Show had a feature story about some young Panda bears who had been brought up in captivity. But the plan was to eventually return them to their natural habitat. So, in order to prepare them for what was to come, their caretakers thought that it would be better if they had no human contact. So to care for them, the people dressed up like panda bears. In order to show them how to live the way they were supposed to live, they became them. Well, isn’t THAT interesting! I think that’s been done before! In its simplest form, the Incarnation is God’s mingling of God with humanity. It is God becoming human, dressing up like a human, and giving humanity a part of the Divine. It is the mystery of life that always was coming into all life yet to be. God became human and lived here. God became us that we might see what it means to change the world. God became like us to show us what it meant for us to be like God in the world. The miracle of the birth of the Christ child is that God now comes through us.
Jesus really didn’t “fit in”. Jesus was not anything that any of us were expecting. That’s the whole point. Perhaps Jesus calls us to be what the world does not expect. God did not come into this world to calm and affirm how well we were conducting things. God came to show us a different way of living, a different way of being. God came as one of us, Emmanuel, God With Us, to show us how to be one of us, to show us how to be human, fully human. Who would have ever come up with that? That was NOT what we were expecting. Because you see, the miracle of God is here, dwelling in our midst, dwelling in us. This is the mystery of the redemption of the world.
This text speaks of the birth of a child, not the revolutionary deed of a strong man, or the breath-taking discovery of a sage, or the pious deed of a saint. It truly boggles the mind: The birth of a child is to bring about the great transformation of all things, is to bring salvation and redemption to all of humanity. As if to shame the most powerful human efforts and achievements, a child is placed in the center of world history. A child born of humans, a son given by God. This is the mystery of the redemption of the world; all that is past and all that is to come. All who at the manger finally lay down all power and honor, all prestige, all vanity, all arrogance and self-will; all who take their place among the lowly and let God alone be high; all who see the glory of God in the lowliness of the child in the manger: these are the ones who will truly celebrate Christmas. (From Christmas With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ed. By Manfred Weber)
Reflection: So, what were you expecting? Where is God in your midst today? What is God calling to be?
Grace and Peace,