The Question at the Heart of Advent – Fr. Rob

  • December 11, 2016

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

3rd Sunday Advent Sermon –  5pm, 8am, 10am Church of the Ascension, Wakefield

RCL Year A 12/11/2016


Scripture Text: Isaiah 35:1-10

James 5:7-10

Matthew 11:2-11

Canticle 15 (Magnificat)

Sermon Text:

There was a man,

Who had been climbing a mountain,

But he lost his grip,

And his footing,

And struggled to hold on.

He was not a man of faith,

But in his moment of desperation,

He prayed, “God, if you’re real,

Help me, get me off this cliff alive.”

To his surprise,

He heard a voice from above,

Loud and clear say,

“Trust me, and let go.”

The man paused, thought for a moment,

And thn replied,

“No, is there anyone else up there?”


The question that John the Baptist asks

Of Jesus in our Gospel reading today,

May seem like that, but it’s really not.

John’s question is the question

at the heart of Advent

And one which we all ask sometimes

Depending on our circumstances.

And the good news today is that Jesus answers

That question for John, and for us

which brings Us the hope and reassurance

Of this third Advent Sunday.


Notice that between our readings

From last week and this week

John’s circumstances have changed dramatically.

He went from being in the wilderness,

And then having people flock to him

At the river Jordan,

For his ministry of baptism.

To now being in a prison cell,

Awaiting an uncertain fate,

At the hands of a ruler who is angry at him,

For doing what he was supposed to be doing.

Herod was furious that John

Would hold him as King of Judea accountable

To God’s morality.

Later John would be killed by that King,

But now he’s just uncertain.

No telling, not knowing,

What is going to happen.

So John’s question to Jesus,

“Are you the one who is to come,

Or are we to wait for another?”

Is like the outpouring of his heart,

Like an honest prayer,

In a time of uncertainty.

It’s not so much that he is doubting Jesus,

But that he finds himself in a difficult place,

And begs for some hope.


One might think,

“John should have known,

Wasn’t he the prophet who announced Jesus coming?”

And maybe he had that confidence

When he was baptizing in the Jordan,

Confidence enough to call the Pharisees to account.

Don’t we all have confidence,

When we’re doing what we know we’re supposed to do,

And we’re getting good response from the people

We’re supposed to do it with?

But when circumstances change,

And we find ourselves imprisoned,

Stuck in uncertain waiting,

Maybe we’re not sure what we’re supposed to do,

Maybe our efforts don’t seem to make a difference.

Sometimes our confidence changes,

As easily as the circumstances.

John, the one who was to announce Jesus coming,

Asks for reassurance,

From a place of being stuck,

From a desire to trust in God.


If the very one who was to announce

The coming of Immanuel,

God to be with us,

The one immediately to reveal the savior

Come to save the world,

If this prophet,

Could come to a moment

Of needing reassurance from Jesus,

Then surely we, you and I

Can ask for that from the heart.


And we don’t just ask without hope,

Because of what we see today,

We have tremendous hope.

For here we see

God in Jesus honors that desire,

Honors the request for reassurance,

By answering that prayer.

Jesus doesn’t grumble about John,

Or say, “You should know better!”


Jesus tells him, through his disciples

“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.”

These are all things that are tell-tale signs

Of the Messiah,

That John would recognize from Isaiah,

And other prophets.

It is just the reassurance that John needs.


But then Jesus goes a step further,

And gives John some extra reassurance,

That he wasn’t asking for,

But you and I,

But more importantly Jesus knows he probably needed.

By telling the crowds,

Within earshot of John’s disciples,

What high regard he has for John’s

Ministry in the wilderness,

And at the river Jordan.

Jesus is saying at what will be

the end of John’s life,

Just like in the parable of the talents,

“Well done, good and faithful servant.

Enter into the joy of your master”


All of those questions

Jesus addressed to the crowds,

Asking them what they were looking for,

Get at some of the doubt that John might

Have about himself.

A reed shaken by the wind,

May be a veiled reference to Herod,

Who has this anger against John.

So does John wonder who has the approval of God,

Herod the King or him?


Those dressed in soft robes,

And living in palaces along the Jordan,

stand in stark contrast to John’s humble lifestyle,

Wearing a rough, camel’s hair tunic,

And living in the wilderness.

For many Jews and even for some of us today,

The possession of wealth was seen

as a sign of God’s blessing.

So John might wonder who is blessed,

these wealthy people,

Or John who is poor and in prison?


By Jesus affirming that John is a prophet,

And going so far as to say,

No one has arisen greater than he,

Within earshot of John’s disciples,

Jesus is sending a message to John:

You did what you were supposed to do,

Though your circumstances may not

Make you feel like it,

You have God’s approval,

You have God’s blessing.

You were faithful,

even though at this moment

you don’t feel successful.

Jesus takes this extra step,

To comfort John in his captivity.


Some of us find ourselves today,

In a sort of captivity.

We find the same desire in our hearts,

To ask Jesus this Advent season,

“Are you the one who is to come,

Or are we waiting for another?

Are you coming back?

We need your help,

Your reassurance.”


I know some of us are still grieving,

Mourning the recent election,

Finding fear in our hearts of what is to come,

Wondering this Advent,

“While our society gets more confusing

Are you coming to set us aright Jesus,

Or are we waiting for another?”

Some of us are struggling to find work,

Or success in our work,

Asking, “While my life seems out of control

are you the one to help me Jesus

Or should I look for another?”

If we find ourselves in that kind of captivity,

Or any other,

Know that this is the same Jesus,

Who answered John and went that next step.

He calls you not to be successful,

But to be faithful,

And he affirms your faithfulness

With reassurance.


The world may look at us very differently,

And from the world’s perspective,

We may seem to be waiting hopelessly,

Watching for a redemption that is not coming.

But we are people of faith,

And our perspective is not the world’s perspective.

When we find the kingdom of heaven

We’re looking for,

That perspective, makes all the difference.

When Jesus says the least in the Kingdom of Heaven,

Is greater than John,

He’s not saying that as if John did not fulfill

His calling,

But that at that moment, John,

Great prophet though he was,

Walking in the light of God though he did,

At that moment, John was not as fully

Present with God as the least one

in the Kingdom of Heaven was.

Jesus went the next step to reassure John,

That what he did was sufficient,

Was faithful.

But when John became fully part

Of the Kingdom of Heaven,

His perspective would change

So much that the troubles

He was facing now would seem inconsequential.


That’s what the least in the Kingdom of Heaven

Now understands and knows,

For that least in the Kingdom is

Still perfectly present perfectly aligned with God.

When we’re with God,

Nothing the enemy can throw at us

Matters, only the presence of God with us.

Only the presence of Immanuel,

That name we cry out to during Advent.


But God loves us enough,

That though this is true,

He knows we need reassurance,

And he answers our heartfelt prayer,

Just as he did for John.


So be confident in making

Your prayer from the heart to God this week.

And look for how God will answer that prayer.

As we walk through advent waiting and hoping.

God knows we need to be

Reassured that Jesus is the one who is to come.

And he reassures us we wait for no one else.



The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details