When I was about 4 years old, I attended a Christmas Eve service with my parents and step-cousins who never attended church. However, this was no ordinary service, as it included the congregation’s pageant, complete with a live baby Jesus. My cousin, who was my age, was in awe of all this, and since she had never heard of Jesus or the story of Christmas, I was given the task of sitting next to her and whispering the names of all the characters who were taking their place on stage.
“Who’s that?” she asked when the Baby Jesus was presented to the congregation.
“That’s Jesus,” I said. “He is God.”
“THAT’S Jesus?!” she yelled in shock. “That little tiny baby? That can’t be God, could it?”
“Well, what did you expect?!” I asked in as much indignation as my 4-year-old voice could muster. I could not believe that she, who never went to church, could dare to criticize Jesus!
Yet, in our passage chosen for today, we find an adult Jesus talking to the crowds about John the Baptist, who had just sent some of his followers from his place in prison to ask Jesus if he was “truly the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (v. 3). Keep in mind that John had been sent to prison while proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God as seen in Jesus. If anyone looked like an unshakable believer in Jesus as the Messiah, it was John. Yet, there he was, asking Jesus if he, a normal man, could truly be “the one.” Jesus sends his followers back to him with the sure message that truly, the Kingdom of God is being made manifest in miracles of healing and resurrection. John, though he was in need of reassurance, had enough hope in Jesus to see the possibility of the Messiah in their midst.
As a prophet, my young self (and almost certainly my current self from time to time) failed in missing a glimmer of hope in my cousin’s question. She essentially asked the same question that John asked: “Is this Jesus truly Immanuel?” Jesus continues to praise John (at great length), despite this apparent moment of disbelief. Why? Because John prophesied the truth that this Jesus is indeed the one whom all our hopes are founded on. John went before Jesus to explain the message of that hope for those who were questioning the truth of it.
This Advent, when the trappings of the Christian story may be all around us, let us remember to be thankful for the prophets among us, such as John and my cousin, who remind us that hope is never something to take for granted. The hope of Advent does not spring from us “know-it-all prophets” who think we have cornered the market on hope. It comes from those who are still able to marvel at that infant laying in the manger, or the man who would die for us all, and ask, “That can’t be God, could it?” Their asking opens the door for the answer of the hope of the Incarnation to come in.
Prayer for the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 241).