In this Advent season, awaiting the arrival of Christmas, I reflect on the hopes, the dreams, the visions of the way I’d like for things and for me to be. I find companionship with John the Baptizer who lived in his own advent-period awaiting the arrival of the Messiah.
In the strength and surety of his hopes, John proclaimed: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” and “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” and “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one more powerful than I is coming…His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
But the judgment dividing the righteous from the righteous, didn’t occur. What did happen was that John, for all his faithfulness to his mission as a precursor, a herald of the Messiah, was imprisoned; caught, captive between bewilderment (was he wrong?) and shame (he was wrong!). In a dungeon, no darker than his inner despair, his hopes dashed, his dreams broken, his visions shattered, he dares to ask a poignant question: “Jesus, are you the one who is to come or must we wait for another?”
Jesus, in compassion, does not ask John to do the impossible. Jesus does not ask John to continue to wait in hope. Jesus does not tell John, “Yes, I am the one.” No. Jesus knows that when hope is lost to speak only words is not merely insufficient, but cruel. Rather Jesus offers John demonstrable, visible proofs, but not the kind John sought. Not clearing the threshing floor in judgment and condemnation. Not more of the way the world already was and is. But rather signs of brokenness made whole – symptomatically, the blind given sight, the sick made well and systemically, the poor given good news and the dead raised. Verily, the way things were (and, as far as one could see then and since then, and can see now, ever will be) was overcome.
Question. Could, would John see the signs? Not simply taking note of their occurrence, but receiving, accepting them as proof of the fulfillment of his hopes, dreams, visions? Could, would John relinquish his hold on his hope, letting go of the belief that the realization of his dream must be as he had envisioned it?
The question is the same for me. Can I, will I see? Can I, will I see in Jesus the fulfillment of my hopes, my dreams, my visions about the way I’d like things to be, the way I’d like to be? A fulfillment that is so extraordinary, unbelievable precisely because it doesn’t look like anything I can envision, for it is other than the way things are and other than the way I am. A fulfillment that in the face of hurt and anger and the sound of the cry for vengeance, especially whenever I hear it within me, forgives. A fulfillment that in the face of need, in compassion, sacrifices its own security to serve. A fulfillment that beholds the world’s brokenness, prays in hope of another possibility, and then acts to bring the dream to life and to light.
In the reflection of this image of Jesus, can I, will I, do I see me?