O.K., imagine this – You pick up the Times Dispatch one morning and the front page headline says – “Jesus Returns.” You read the article and sure enough it is Jesus, the Christ, no doubt about it – this is not some impersonator, he has come back and he is gathering together his followers. Below the article there is a photograph of Jesus and looking closely you can see that he is wearing a big button on his lapel that says – “I’m a Republican.” What do you think? Or you glance down at the picture and instead of a button on his lapel Jesus is wearing a tee shirt that says, “Kerry/Edwards – The Right Choice.” What do you think? Or maybe he is wearing a Hokie hat or a UNC sweatshirt. Maybe instead of a photograph the article contains part of a recent sermon Jesus has given and he says: Blessed are the multi-national oil conglomerates for theirs is the energy that runs the world. Or he condemns all SUVs as sinful. Or he comes out in favor of the death penalty or he is blatantly pro-choice. What do you do then?
Think about any controversial social issue, for that matter think about any issue that pushes your buttons, and then imagine that Jesus comes back to earth and takes up a position contrary to yours. What would you do? Could he still be your Savior, your Lord, your Redeemer even though he turned out to be a very different person than the Christ you imagined? This is no imposter mind you, he really is the Messiah and he really has come back, he is just not what you expected. What would it take for you to walk away, for you to reject this Savior and go and look for a new one, a different one, a Savior who more closely fits with your beliefs and expectations?
Sounds crazy doesn’t it, but in truth this was something many struggled with during the ministry of Jesus. John the Baptist, the disciples, the religious leaders of the day – all of them had to deal with a Messiah who did not meet their expectations. Over and over again Jesus said and did things that made many people say – He is not my savior! My savior wouldn’t believe such things, my savior wouldn’t say such things, my savior wouldn’t do such things. Jesus worked on the Sabbath, he treated women as equals, in his teaching he used the hated Samaritans as examples of the good guys, he counted tax collectors as among his friends. Shocking, disappointing, they all said. Certainly the real Messiah would know better. Even John the Baptist, Jesus’ own cousin, had his doubts.
John was arrested shortly after he baptized Jesus in the river Jordan . Being his normal hothead, take no prisoners self – John got himself into a lot of trouble by openly proclaiming that King Herod was an unrepentant sinner. Herod had married Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. In response, Herod had John imprisoned in the fortress at Machaerus on the heights of Moab near the eastern shore of the Dead Sea . John would later die in that prison beheaded at the urging of Herodias.
In our lesson for today John, in prison, sends word to Jesus by way of his disciples and asks – “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” This is a funny question coming from the man who said of Jesus only a short time before – “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) John’s whole ministry had been the proclamation of Jesus’ coming and yet here he was in doubt as to Jesus’ true identity. While in prison John had heard something about Jesus ministry but it was a ministry that did not look like the ministry John thought the Messiah ought to have. Jesus’ ministry of compassion was very different from what John expected of the Messiah. John predicted a Messiah who would come and separate the true from the false, the good from the bad. In Jesus, there was a Messiah who healed, who worked among the poor, and who preached good rather than bad news. John emphasized God as a judge, Jesus revealed God as the liberator, the God who sets his children free. When John’s fiery prophecies did not appear in Jesus’ words and actions as John had predicted, the Baptist began to wonder if Jesus really was the one they had been waiting for. John began to wonder if Jesus really was the Messiah.
Unfortunately that is the last we hear from John. We learn later on that he was beheaded but we never hear his voice again in the scriptures. What did he think of Jesus at the last? Was he able to find peace with the Messiah as he really was as opposed to the Messiah of his expectations? Did he die frustrated or liberated?
Expectations are powerful things. We have expectations of our children, our spouses, our parents, our friends, and yes, we have expectations of our God. And when those expectations are not met, it can be very painful. I have a friend who was always expected to grow up and take over his family business. It was a business that had been handed down from father to son for several generations. But my friend wanted to become an artist; he had no interest in the family business. He loved his father very much but he could not honestly meet his father’s expectations. This person is now an amazing artist. He is who he was always supposed to be. But there is still pain in his family because he could never live up to what was expected of him. I know a woman who was deeply disappointed by the church. She became a Christian late in her life and she had high hopes that through her church community she could correct her faults and perfect her character. She expected to find in the people around her a community of the upright, a community of the righteous. She was very disappointed when she discovered that a church community is really a community of the broken, a community of the sinful, a community of folks who are all looking for the love and forgiveness of God. Ultimately she left the church when her expectations could not be fulfilled.
During this season of Advent as we wait for the coming of Christ the question for all of us is – Will you let God come into your life as God will, not as you desire? God is not made in our image we are made in God’s image. And God is a mystery far larger than any of us can comprehend. Will you receive the Messiah, Jesus, as he is rather than as we would have him to be? Can we let go of our expectations for Christ long enough to hear Christ’s expectations for us? Jesus surprised almost everyone by being a very different kind of Messiah. Two thousand years later he is still surprising those who try and follow him. Don’t assume you know how he will respond to some problem, some struggle, some question in your life. Just bring everything to him in prayer and wait to be surprised. Because as John and the disciples discovered – with Jesus you always get more than you bargained for, you always get more than you asked for or deserve.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, give us the eyes to see you when you come among us. It would be a terrible thing to be praying for your Advent but to miss you when you come. Give us courageous spirits, willing to risk your presence, willing to endure your judgments, able to receive mercy, able to walk down the road that you invite us to walk. Come, Lord, come quickly. William H. Willimon  William Willimon  William Willimon.