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What Are You Waiting For? ~ Matthew 3: 1-12

What was he waiting for? I mean, that guy outside of Akron who, a week before Black Friday, pitched a tent in front of some big box store and waited for the big day. I read that in his tent he had a generator so that he could power his lights, microwave, big screen TV and his game system. Apparently his mother and father brought food to him at meal time AND even took over the watch so that their son could go home and shower.

Really, what more could he have asked for? It sounds as if he had everything that he needed.

But I will give him credit – he was prepared and ready for the moment the doors opened and he walked into the new Jerusalem of American commerce.

But what was he waiting for? This time, I mean John the Baptist. He is one interesting guy. We know very little about him. Luke’s gospel fills in a back story – but really that is shaped by later Christian concern that John the Baptist needed to be put in his place as important but subordinated to Christ!

In Matthew, as in Mark– John the Baptist just appeared in the wilderness of Judea – by the river Jordan – 25 miles or so down the hill and into the desert from Jerusalem. There isn’t a tree in that expanse as you head towards the Dead Sea and Masada. He just appeared, identified as the “voice…crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord!”

He is described as a raggedy prophet – waiting for the one who was going to bring in the kingdom. And it wasn’t going to be pleasant. The religious leaders – the Pharisees and Sadducees- were called vipers: “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come.” And “the axe is lying at the root of the tree!” And, “the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire!”

Wow – now there is your hellfire and brimstone preacher!

John the Baptist is not waiting for Jesus gentle and mild he is looking more for Conan the Barbarian who, when asked “What is the best thing in life,” responded,“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.” (That’s my best attempt at Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

But that seems to be what John the Baptist was waiting for.

Did Jesus live up to his expectations? Perhaps, a little bit, but not really. When John the Baptist was in prison he sent word to Jesus asking him; “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (11:3)

Because Jesus was healing people, not threatening them. Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. He called them hypocrites but Jesus ate with Pharisees.

John, it seemed, wanted to destroy the present age and replace it with a new kingdom.

Jesus called people then, and still calls people (you and me) today to get a new mind for a new age. The kingdom isn’t coming soon in chronological time. The kingdom is near in spatial time: when two or three are gathered together, when the outcast is brought in, when the stranger is welcomed, when the hungry are fed and the imprisoned are visited, when people live new lives of hope.

Now this doesn’t mean that tables won’t be overturned, or that there will be great tension, but there is a different tone to these two men. Perhaps like Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Nelson Mandela; all speaking to the reality of the sin of racism and white oppression – but in different tones, different voices, different choices – we need to hear them all, I suppose.

I was with a young man the other day who shared with me his story of addiction. He has given me permission to share this with you.

The crisis had come – rock bottom had been hit. In rehab he attended his first AA meeting. He was expecting judgment and condemnation. He had judged and condemned himself so often – that was part of the reason he was in this mess. He was unworthy, a viper. He had lied and stolen, used and abused. He believed that God hated him and he was doomed – with no way out.

But instead he was welcomed by this new community of fellow travelers. Not told to “change or else” to be accepted; but welcomed, accepted just as he was – a man in need.

In the stories that were shared he saw himself as he was for the first time. He surrendered to his Higher Power and he is working it, hard, every day.

He said, “I went into that first meeting feeling like I had “a thousand cuts on his body.”

But then, he felt as if “water was coming forth,” from the wounds as he heard the stories, and experienced the kingdom.

It reminds me of Christ on the cross – stabbed in the side, but what came forth? Cleansing water. I wish more Christian churches were like AA meetings, instead of court rooms of judgment and condemnation with happy contemporary music!

John the Baptist is condemnation – repent, get baptized or else.

Jesus says, “Come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you peace.”

At times we may need to hear both the exhortation and the invitation.

Transformation is tough work – it isn’t easy. But our culture and so much of religion is John the Baptist – so much on judgment. We don’t need to be beaten with the fact that we are not quite right; sinners.

I think we know intuitively that things are amiss within and without. We too have a “thousand cuts.” What we search for is to be known. “Just as I am, without one plea.”

Then change happens. Into the embrace of God who knows and sees and forgives we come and are transformed; our thousand cuts are bathed.

What are you waiting for? What do you expect of Jesus?

Many folks have such expectations about Jesus and God – the great fixer. The one who should take away all pain and should stop anything bad from happening or, Jesus the elf of Santa Claus; or maybe no expectations at all. He has lost all meaning.

But Emmanuel – God with us. Jesus shows us God in the midst. God has skin in the game!

What are you waiting for?

I am waiting for God to kick some butt. To right some wrongs.

I am waiting for God to pay back people according to their actions.

I am waiting for God to solve my problems.

But what if the emphasis is changed?

Not what are you waiting for, but what are you waiting for?

Perhaps you need to make the move towards Christ. You need to embody Christ in care for others; to become the very likeness and image of God in this kingdom!

You need to look at yourself in the mirror and say “I have to make some changes!”

Perhaps you need to start praying or to read more closely the scripture – or try something new – take that risk, follow that voice, just do it – not out of fear, obligation or guilt – the axe is at the root of your tree.

But out of hope, that in so pruning the dead branches, you will bear new fruit for the kingdom, for the kingdom is present among us and you and I witness to it.

What are you waiting for?

I wonder what God is waiting for.

Perhaps God is waiting for you and me.

AMEN

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