3rd Sunday of Advent, December 15, 2019
– Matthew 11:2-11, Isaiah 35:1-10
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been imprisoned, he left his hometown of Nazareth and made his new home in another Galilean town called Capernaum in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali which, like other places in Galilee, were part of the former northern realm of Israel whose inhabitants were supposedly displaced and replaced by foreigners when Israel was conquered by Assyria. Zebulun and Naphtali specifically were regions named after children of Jacob who settled the land and, as a result of foreign occupation, no longer occupied the area. These regions became known by the Prophet Isaiah as places typifying his reference to “Galilee of the Gentiles,” (9:1) who walked in darkness since they lacked an understanding of the God of Jacob. Yet is it from Galilee of the Gentiles that Jesus and his disciples came.
Let me put it another way. It is from “Galilee of the Gentiles,” the low-rent, crime-infested, armpit of Palestine that Jesus and his disciples came. It is therefore not surprising that John the Baptist would inquire concerning his cousin, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Many may have thought John was the long-awaited Messiah, since he was descended from the priestly line of Aaron, Moses’ brother, and son of the prominent temple priest Zechariah. But John believed the prophesy of Isaiah that the Messiah would rise from the house of Jesse in Bethlehem, which gave Israel its greatest kings, David and Solomon, and from which he suspected Jesus would fit the profile. But Jesus not only came from the house of Jesse, he came from “Galilee of the Gentiles,” the armpit of Palestine. It was commonly held among Jews that “no prophet would rise from Galilee.” (John 7:52) So, John rightly wondered, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
We are still looking for the Messiah, and the season of Advent is one in which we focus upon messianic expectations, not just in the birth of Christ, but in the final coming.
However, as one who places as much importance on the journey as well as the destination, I urge you to see the coming Messiah in a new light, not as a divinely anointed individual from a politically powerful ancestral line who will rescue the world from annihilation and usher in a universal realm of peace; but rather as a messianic age of justice and peace that has already landed in our lives through the divinely motivated cries and actions of individuals fed up with the slow-paced, business-as-usual bureaucracy of the economic elite and their political cronies, who from a grassroots level are pressuring the political power-brokers to act on behalf of the less powerful before it’s too late.
They are the modern-day counterparts of John the Baptist imploring us to open our hearts and minds and eyes to prevent the worst from happening. John cautioned us with words like, “Already the axe is laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:11) Similarly, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg cries out to the world, “Our house is on fire…I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” (World Economic Forum, January 22-25, 2019)
From every region of the world, children, youth and adults are assuming the mantle of messianic prophets proclaiming “The realm of God is hand, repent and believe!” Prophesy is not just a vision of what will be because of our neglect, but what can be because of our repentance or change of heart. And from the neglect of inner-city neighborhoods, terrorist-torn schools and faith communities, and pesticide-poisoned farmlands people of God are calling for the world to repent.
A wounded world looks from their imprisoned lives, as John the Baptist from his own imprisonment, and wonders, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” As children of God’s household and citizens of God’s realm, I urge you to conduct your lives privately, publicly, and as a faith community in such a way that those who see and are touched by you may know that the realm of God is at hand. Amen.