Are you the one for whom we wait?
There are moments when Matthew’s Jesus is like yoda, giving answers that are more questions. It is a strange sort of Advent when we were are preparing to dive deep into Matthew, filled with prophetic warnings, angry kings, and tension.
There are no fluffy sheep in the fields. There is no angel calling “hark favored one,” no sweet visitation of Mary with her cousin (John’s mother). This Advent we dive straight into a world where John preaches a very Lenten message of repentance and turning.
And today, the central question of all of Matthew’s Gospel gets asked, and answered (in a way.)
Are you the one for whom we wait?
As I’m sure I’ll remind us over and over again Matthew is the most “Jewish” of the Gospels. Matthew, and his congregation are almost certainly Jewish, or mostly Jewish. And Matthew cares a great deal about showing Jesus as Moses-like, an inheritor of the promises to Israel, a continuance of the prophetic tradition.
Matthew and his folks are Jews enmeshed in a debate over the direction Judaism will take in the wake of the destruction of the Second Temple. So we need to be careful to read the whole of this Gospel as a family feud as it were. These are Jews debating Judaism with other Jews, not condemning it.
For Matthew preparing for the coming of God into the world means something very specific and concrete.
It is about waiting, but not passive waiting. John asks if Jesus is the one they have been waiting for, but you’ll notice John has been active, active enough to have already been arrested for angering the folks in power. He’s about to lose his head in fact, so thoroughly has he upset the powers that be. This is a meddling sort of waiting.
And Jesus’ response to the question about who he is will eventually get him into trouble as well.
Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back to John and report what they see (and then Jesus narrates what that is for us, who can’t be there and see for ourselves) “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.”
This, Jesus implies, is what we’ve been waiting for. Good news for the sick, the injured, the disabled, and the poor. Good news for those thought of as disposable the world over. When someone asks Jesus who he is and what he is doing he turns outward, toward the margins of his occupied land and he says: ask them, ask the people you wouldn’t normally talk to.
We are still waiting. The last are still not first, the first are still very much not last.
In Advent we wait, we cannot by our human striving hurry things up.
And yet, strangely, that doesn’t give us an out to sit on our hands and do nothing.
Jesus remains, pointing us to the margins, inciting us to listen for the good news to the poor, to look for the healing of the sick and the hurt. And he shows us, when we find those things we have already found the Kingdom. When we find ourselves in a place where the hungry are fed, where the homeless are sheltered, where the sick are cared for gently, we have found the Kingdom.
And perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, this has been the message of the prophets to Israel from the beginning.
And now, as John would say: time is growing short.
Finish your preparation.
Sweep the house clean. Unlock the doors of your hearts. Make right what has gone wrong. Where you can, mend the relationships which are broken. Forgive others, forgive yourselves.
The one for whom we have been waiting is coming. And we will find him where the hungry are fed, where the broken are put back together, where hands reach out in love.