Rev. Sue Foster is the pastor of the East Woodstock Congregational Church and author of Retreats to Go: Twelve Creative Programs that Renew and Refresh.
Scripture: Matthew 11: 2-11 (NRSV)
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 offence 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.
Reflection: Signs and Wonders
A little doubt can creep into Advent just about now. A little bit of wondering – as we celebrate the Prince of Peace, where exactly is the peace?
Here we are, halfway through our journey to Bethlehem, and we are busy proclaiming promises of hope, peace, and joy. But there is abundant evidence to the contrary. Unless we are not paying attention, we can’t help but notice there is a distinct lack of these gifts all around us. And it could cause us to wonder – do we have the story right?
The nagging doubts and poignant questions of an imprisoned John touch my heart. I imagine the scene – here is John, who has devoted his life to the Messiah, first by waiting for him and then by preparing the way for him. John joyfully shouted to anyone who would listen, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Matthew 3:3). John was privileged to stand in the River Jordan with Jesus and overwhelmed by the honor of baptizing him. John witnessed the heavens opening and the dove descending. John heard the voice of God proclaiming, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
But now the party is over. Jesus went on to his ministry and John finds himself in prison. A first-century jail would be a bleak place in any circumstance, but when a tyrant is the jailor and murder is on his mind, it must be particularly grim.
Is it any wonder that John’s last recorded words are formed as a question? Was I right? Did I back the right horse? Did I spend my time, my energy, and all my abilities on the truth?
Here is John’s final, urgent request - Tell me now, before it is too late. Are you – really – “the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
John needs to know if his time and efforts have been in vain. It is a question that we might ask ourselves as we see endless signs of corruption, violence, discrimination, and loss during a season that celebrates comfort and joy. It is a question that might nag at churches with dwindling congregations and diminishing influence. As we light candles and speak of hope, does doubt ever seep in?
And yet. Jesus reassures John – and us – with his powerful reply; “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” (Matthew 11:5).
Yes, God is present. Not always in the way we expect. Not always on the timeline we anticipate. Not always with neat and tidy results. But life-giving, hope-producing, heartwarming change is going on right now. If we look, we will see it.
Maybe we, like John, need someone to point it out for us. And maybe then we can rejoice and say, “Look! God is in our midst!” May that truth give us the courage to carry on.
Faithful God, I believe. Help my unbelief. And help me be a messenger of your hope. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving or suffering injuries after an island volcano and popular tourist site in New Zealand erupted on Monday, leaving at least 5 dead and many injured or missing
- For those grieving or suffering in New Dehli after a factory fire Sunday left more than 40 dead
- For those grieving or suffering after shootings are military bases in Hawaii and Pensacola, FL last week
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the elderly in our lives who share stories and histories that help us remember our interconnectedness
- For the Season of Advent
Please Remember These Connecticut Conference Churches In Your Prayers:
The First Congregational Church of Essex, UCC
First Church Congregational, UCC
Greenfield Hill Congregational UCC
Falls Village Congregational Church
First Church of Christ Congregational 1652
This Week in History:
December 9, 1979 (40 years ago) Smallpox is officially declared eradicated. The disease carries a 30% death rate and the leading cause of death in 18th century Europe. Brought to the Americas by European explorers, the disease devastated the indigenous populations. A vaccine was discovered in 1796. The last known case was reported in 1977. Smallpox is considered the only infectious disease affecting humans to have been fully eradicated.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”