Lonely Questions - 12-7-16

 Texts for 
 December 11, 2016
 Third Sunday of  Advent

 Isaiah 35:1-10
 Psalm 146
 James 5:7-10
 Matthew 11:2-11


I was introduced to the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in college. My husband and I used a reading from one of his letters in our wedding ceremony.  And this year our Advent devotional features his thought, sermons, and writings. He can cause a person to deeply reflect on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the midst of a world off-kilter. 

He did a lot of writing in prison (waiting to be executed), some of which were poems. Probably the best known is “Who Am I?” which ends: 
Who am I? 
They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. 
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

When his death was certain,Bonhoeffer wrote the poem Stations on the Road to Freedom:  
Faint not nor fear, 
but go out to the storm and the action, 
trusting in God whose commandment you faithfully follow….

In today’s Gospel text, John the Baptist is in prison (waiting to be executed). It feels like he is going through self-reflection about his life and mission as he sends a message to Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 

Since before he was born, John was the one who was to prepare the way for the one who is to come.  He gave all to his mission, went into “the storm and the action”, trusting in God’s call to which he was faithful. But now, everything was changed. John was in prison, fear was creeping in, and darkness began to deepen.  
Bonhoeffer described such a moment: 
A change has come indeed. 
Your hands, so strong and active, are bound; 
in helplessness now you see your action is ended…

Jesus sends a non-answer back to John: Well, this is what is what is going on…. What do you think:  Am I the one to come?

(Seriously, Jesus …. Can’t you ever just say yes or no??)

Right now, our culture seems to be running on fear. For those of us sensitive to this deepening darkness around and in us, we can take heart in this question from John. This is like the smartest kid in the class not knowing the answer. If John can ask this, so can I. Advent provides time to think about the question. And to think about Jesus’ answer to John. 

For whose coming do we wait? 

Then James admonishes us to be patient and strengthen our hearts for the coming is near.

The text from Isaiah offers an awesome counterpoint to the tentativeness of John’s question. Isaiah proclaims that God has promised that the fearful darkness will be driven away. 
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God (v.3-4).

God’s promise sounds an awful lot like Jesus’ answer to John (coincidence? I think not!). Blind people will see; deaf people will hear; those limping can leap; those silent will speak – no, they will sing!

This promise extends beyond humanity – even the wilderness will rejoice with springs and blossoms.
And for all – creation, God’s people, John the Baptist, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and us – sorrow and sighing shall flee away. 

Until then, these lonely questions of ours will mock us…


Please share your comments below.

PS. Our Advent devotional book is God is in the Manger, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.
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Written by Pam Larabee-Zierath


Gathered by Grace, Scattered for Service
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3 comments:

  1. Perhaps Jesus answered John in the affirmative precisely the way John would understand. The things he pointed out look like the promises of prophets...

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  2. While I am staring out at the bleak winter morning, this reflection fits perfectly. This generation has not witnessed the angst of world wars or the volume of hate-filled speech that has swept over our society. It has forced us inward, all of us asking these lonely questions. Perhaps, this will make us all stronger disciples.

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  3. What a beautiful devotion - thank you! I love how you tied all three readings together, the Bonhoeffer parallels, and your point that if John is uncertain, we can question, too, and ponder while we wait.
    There is indeed such promise here to give us hope and encourage us!

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