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Our Advent Hero

December 10, 2010

Advent 3: Matthew 11:2-11 (follow link to find Scripture for this week)

I love a good action hero. You know the kind of hero I’m referring to. The strong person both of action and conviction who rails against whatever the institutional evil of the world might be. As a culture we just love this type of hero. Prophets are these types of heroes who seek to shake up the status quo and bring down barriers that keep people out. We love these kinds of heros so much that we long to be among the disenfranchised just so we can claim to be on the side of the hero. In short, we just love a good hero who comes in with guns blazing and rights the wrongs of the world.

John the Baptist would be a biblical example of such a hero. He’s a man who wears animal skin, doesn’t shave, and eats honey and locusts. I sometimes imagine John the Baptist being the Chuck Norris of the Gospels. He’s daring enough to call the religious leaders of the day a “brood of vipers” as he “warns them of the wrath to come” (Matthew 3:7). He speaks of one who “baptizes with fire” and whose “winnowing fork will clear the threshing floor” (Matthew 3:11-12). Yeah, John’s my kind of hero in the Bible-a “take no prisoners” kind of guy.

But in our text for this week we come across a peculiar passage. Our hero we love, the one who spits in the eye of the religious establishment, is now in prison. We know that he has friends come to see him. But they’re not coming to help hatch a plan to bust out of the big house. They’re not coming to help conspire on how to kill Herod and overthrow the powers of evil that put him in jail. No, they’re sent from that jail with specific instructions: go ask Jesus if he’s really the one we’ve been waiting on.

That’s no way for our hero to be, is it? We like heros who know the answers. We like heros who take charge and make right all that’s wrong. We don’t like heros who are unsure of themselves. This doesn’t fit our mold of what a hero should look like. Bring back that guy who calls religious leaders ugly names and lives in the wilderness. We can do without this unsure and instrospective John.

Every year Christmas comes and goes and marks yet another year of our lives. In the Church we all too often make the mistake of assuming that the world knows the story and think our role is to redicule materialism as a means of telling this story more clearly. That’s not entirely wrong. But Matthew lets us in on another need of the season in our passage for today. Our hero, John, is our hero because he asks the question that should be asked every year. Maybe Advent isn’t about simply proclaiming “good new of great joy” every year. Maybe it’s about be willing to be vulnerable enough to ask, “is this really ‘good news?'” And, “if this is good news then how do we know it?” Too often we in the church act as though we have been let into the treasure chest that contains all the answers about faith. We seek to hoard them and share only as we see fit.

The truth is, anyone who professes to have an active faith life finds they often have more questions than answers. So maybe John is still our hero of the story. Maybe Advent is a time when we need a hero to do something as simple and profound as give us permission to ask the hard questions of faith without fear of being ridiculed for doing so? Maybe John asks the most important questions of Advent? Maybe we won’t be able to truly appreciate the baby in the manger until we know we can bring everything we have to this child-even those questions of faith that haunt us.

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