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Waiting Patiently James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

What to do with Darren? Darren was an awkward and shy child. It was time to hand out roles for the Christmas play, but what role should the teacher give Darren? She decided on the inn-keeper. It was an important role, but required Darren only to shake his head and say one line "Sorry, we've no room." Darren grinned from ear to ear when he learned of his important role and he couldn't wait for the big night.
It arrived soon enough, and the play was proceeding according to plan. Mary and Joseph had travelled to Bethlehem and come to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked on the door and it opened to Darren. "Please sir, do you have a room we could take?" asked Joseph. Darren shook his head and replied. "I'm sorry, we've no room".
Now the boy playing Joseph was a particularly confident child, and while the script called for he and Mary to turn away at this point, Joseph decided to exercise some dramatic license. "But sir" he said to the innkeeper, "My wife is about to have her baby and we need somewhere to stay. Couldn't you find us a room?" Darren's face went white - this was not planned for! - and he paused for a moment before repeating his line. "I'm sorry, we've no room."
"But sir" replied Joseph, "We've travelled such a long way and we've nowhere else to go and my wife is very tired. Surely you can find us somewhere." Darren bowed his head, shook it sadly and said, "I'm sorry, we've no room." Forlornly Joseph and Mary started walking away. Darren, now fully into his role, felt shamed and saddened. A tear trickled down his cheek. Then his voice was heard calling out. "Wait! Please come back. You can have my room."
It may not have been according to script, but at that moment Darren gave perfect expression to the Christmas story!

John the Baptist’s Part
I wonder what sort of child John the Baptist might have been? Last week we were introduced in our gospel reading to a strange figure – living in the wilderness, wearing camel’s skin and eating locusts and wild honey. He was one of those figures that didn’t fit into normal society. But he knew where he fitted in God’s plan and he had a passionate and dramatic part to play. He paid dearly for that part, though. He had criticised King Herod for his unjust and immoral lifestyle and had ended up in prison. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus, in effect, whether he had been playing the right role. Was Jesus the one they had been looking for? John had dedicated his life to preparing the way. The one for whom the ancient prophets had been looking, the one who would fulfil their longing: The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame shall leap, tongues will be loosened.

I can sympathize with John. He had worked so bravely at preparing the way and now he was no longer free. It must have been a terrible dungeon he was in. He was held by a despotic ruler, with little or no hope of ever coming out again and who knew what end he might come to! If he were to end his days there, it would help John know that he had not been mistaken – that he had played the right role in God’s plan and prepared the way for the real Messiah.

I can also understand why John sent disciples to question Jesus. At first it seems that Jesus’ reply is a bit harsh. He seems to be sending the messengers back saying: can’t you see and hear that what I am doing shows that I am the Messiah? If you knew what I was doing, why send to question? Isn’t it obvious? The Messiah was healing, teaching and bringing back to life. But he hadn’t freed John from prison. John didn’t want to be fooled by any partial fulfilment of the Messiah’s role. He didn’t want to die thinking mistakenly that the one he had heralded was the real thing. Certainly Jesus seemed to be the genuine article, but was he?

Jesus’ response was twofold. On the one hand, yes, he was fulfilling the parts of the prophecies that looked forward to the healing and teaching part of the Messiah’s role. But freeing prisoners implies a different power. Healing and teaching are powers of a personal nature. Jesus did what was possible then and there. To be able to free prisoners you needed either force of arms or political power. To have those you needed to be a king. Jesus was not that sort of a king.

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus spoke in support of John. We may think that Jesus’ words were spoken to the crowds behind the backs of the returning messengers, out of earshot, as it were. On the other hand, maybe it was a sort of farewell speech to the messengers from John. If so, then they would have been able to take the reassurance of those words back to their imprisoned master. The reed was Herod’s logo or symbol. The shaking reed was Jesus’ code language for Herod as a vacillating leader. The people hadn’t gone out into the desert to look for an alternative king, when they went to John. Neither was John preparing the way for yet another political leader, a rival, as it were to Herod. The ordinary people were not after another earthly king. No, they had recognized the genuine voice of one who spoke to their hearts and lives. So John was to be reassured that he had prepared the way for a Messiah who was genuine, one who would also speak into the depths of people’s hearts and lives. John was greater than all the previous prophets, he was “more than a prophet”. He was also the figure who had been promised as ushering in the Messiah – the Elijah figure to whom earlier prophetic traditions had looked forward. But John had to end his days in captivity, he who had roamed freely in the wilds of his country. He had to die in hope, believing that he had made room for the one who would bring about the fulfilment of the prophets’ and the peoples’ wishes.

Dangerous Wishes
Three men were marooned on a desert island. As the days slowly went by, they dreamed of what it would be like to be at home with their friends and family, to be back at their jobs doing the things they loved. One day one of the men found a bottle that contained a genie. He opened the bottle and the genie announced that he would grant each of them one wish.
One of the men said, "Boy, I want to be back in England with my wife and kids." POOF--he was gone.
The second man immediately said, "I want to be back at home with my fiancé" and again in a flash he was gone.
The third man was left all alone sitting on the sandy beach. He said, "Boy, it really is lonely with my friends gone. I sure wish they were back here with me again.

We might be hoping for all sorts of things this Christmas – and if we were granted our wildest dreams by a genie, we might find what one wants goes against the hopes of another. Many of the world’s wishes can now be granted by science, technology and medical knowledge: many of the things that Jesus told John he was doing can now be done by humans: the blind, lame, deaf and diseased can be cured. We also have it within us to make sure the poor are lifted out of their poverty. But there remain many other things we long for – this week’s news carries the “hopes and fears of the all the years” – the world’s leaders gathered in Bali to stop global warming; Europe’s leaders in Lisbon signing a treaty for peace and prosperity on our continent; even hope for the future of our national game with the appointment of an Italian manager!

During this season of preparation for Christmas we are reminded by James that we are to wait patiently not just for the fulfilment of our wishes, but for the coming of the Lord, for whom we make room, just like John the Baptist or even the young Darren!

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith



God for whom we watch and wait,
you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son:
give us courage to speak the truth,
to hunger for justice,
and to suffer for the cause of right,
with Jesus Christ our Lord.