Disappointment and Waiting
Text: Matt. 11:2-15
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It can be disappointing not getting what we want for Christmas. It’s more of an issue when you’re a child, but even so, there’s something about the excitement of the season that doesn’t get along very well with disappointment. Or maybe it’s not a gift that you were hoping to get that didn’t arrive. Maybe it was hoping to see someone for the holidays, but plans had to change and now you won’t. Maybe it was a dinner you tried to pull together, or a party you wanted to throw, but nothing worked out the way you had hoped.
It’s true that the holidays are not immune to disappointment. We feel it in every other part of our lives, so it should come as no surprise to us that it happens even now, at this blessed time. But what about when disappointment creeps into a corner that we don’t really like to think it ever could? What about when disappointment finds its way into our life with God? We can pretend like it never happens, or never could, but it does. We pray for something and it never arrives. We struggle with something and God offers no resolution. We dread something terrible on the horizon and nothing shows up from the heavens to stop it.
We can’t pretend like we’ve never felt that way toward God because even John the Baptist, whom Jesus calls the greatest of those born of women, even he felt disappointed with God. He had done everything that was asked of him. He lived in the wilderness along the Jordan River. He ate a peculiar diet of locusts and wild honey, keeping himself from any corruption or indulgence. He wore a camel’s skin instead of soft clothes. He preached the pure, undiluted truth, even speaking it to the powerful and terrifying Herod, and John never flinched. And what did he get for all that effort, for doing the right thing all that time? He was arrested and thrown in prison.
But John knew the prophecies about the Messiah, and he knew that the Messiah had arrived. He knew that the wilderness he had lived in and the dry land that his fortress prison was located in would rejoice and bloom like a crocus when the Messiah came, that it would blossom and rejoice with joy and singing. He knew that the eyes of the blind would be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; that the lame man would leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute would sing for joy. And Jesus had done all those things and more with His miracles of healing. But there was one thing left for the Messiah to do: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,” Isaiah prophesied, as Jesus Himself had proclaimed in His hometown synagogue, “because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” And so John waited for Jesus to do that. He waited and waited. And it never came. He was disappointed, so he sent messengers to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, are you the Messiah, are you ever going to do all those great things you promised to do, or shall we look for another?”
Be honest. Haven’t you been like John the Baptizer? Don’t you get disappointed with God too, when things don’t work out the way it should in your life, or in the Church, or with fellow believers, or your family, or with this whole walk of faith and path of salvation? Haven’t you needed something that never seemed to arrive? Haven’t you expected great things, but they never played out the way they should have? So you, like John in prison, get frustrated. You get angry. You feel confused, fearful. Did you do something to make God angry? Should you be doing more so that He’ll give you what you asked for? Why did that other person get what they wanted? Isn’t He listening at all? Doesn’t He care?
John sent messengers to Jesus and we can’t help but lean in to hear Jesus’ answer. John’s fears are our fears. His worries are our worries. So whatever Jesus has to say to them, it will apply to us too. Maybe there will be some magic answer that will make it all OK, some dazzling philosophical solution to give us peace, just the right formula or words or a perfect program to fix everything.
Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
None of this would be that magic answer we would look for. It’s not what the crowd that day expected to hear either. There was no easy fix. There was no single work they could do or a powerful combination of words to win anything or anyone over to their side.
Jesus goes on to tell the crowds, and us, that we should have paid a little closer attention to John, who was not a mere reed shaken by the wind or a pompous windbag in soft clothing in a palace. He was a prophet; he was more than a prophet. He was the last prophet, the forerunner of the Messiah. They should have remembered all of John’s talk of trees being cut down or spared, all to take place at the last judgment, when the Messiah comes back in glory. Then they—and we—wouldn’t have griped about John and his eccentricities, because he wasn’t the way they wanted him to be. “To what shall I compare this generation?” Jesus asks them (and us), “It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did you mourn.’ You never did what we wanted you to. You never were what we wanted you to be. For John came fasting, and they say, ‘How strange. He has a demon.’” But then when the Messiah arrives after, doing the opposite, eating and drinking, doing what we thought we wanted him to do, we say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”
Jesus continues, “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” If they, if John, if we listen to the Word, especially on our disappointed days—we would have seen wisdom justified by her deeds, wisdom justifying her children. That is to say, all those made wise by the Word of the Lord have been made right before God. That where we learn the right expectations. That’s where we learn who Jesus is and what He’s doing, and how all of it is for us. He’s doing all those wonderful things—healing, purifying, saving, setting free—even when we can’t see it. It’s happening because there’s nothing between you and God now. You’ve been justified, given a good standing with Him. So now there’s nothing more you need to do to be in His good graces; no magic bullet, no perfect program, nothing. Even when you can’t see it, even when you don’t feel it, you’re still in His kingdom. And all those disappointing things, He’ll take care of them in His time. Jesus went on from that conversation with John’s messengers to Jerusalem, to the cross, the tomb, all of it to defeat sin, doubt, death, and hell. All of it to give resurrection and eternal life to John the Baptist, to his messengers, to the crowds following Him, and to us.
Even if you have to wait for it, even if it feels like you’re waiting forever, like John the Baptist was waiting, like all the prophets and apostles and martyrs waited, like all who have gone before us in the faith have had to wait, your salvation is coming. Your healing is coming. Your freedom is coming. Your life is coming. It’s coming at Christmas, in a manger. It’s coming in Communion, in body and blood. It’s coming with Jesus’ return, the fulfillment of the promise of perfect goodness yet to come on the Last Day. So come to where those promises are being proclaimed. Come to where you can hear the examples of those before you, who strengthen you by showing that it’s just a little while you wait compared to the eternity of glory. Come and be justified by Wisdom Himself, the Word of wisdom made flesh, your coming Savior. In the name of Jesus, who is coming to save us, Amen.