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December 25, 2007

The One Who Is to Come: An Advent Sermon

Filed under: Sermons — William Witt @ 6:04 am
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Third Advent 2007
Isaiah 35: 1-10
Psalm 146
Matthew 11: 2-11

John the Baptist

The gospel passage that we read this morning has caused a greatdeal of trouble in the history of interpretation. Biblical interpreters from the earliest times to the present have not known quite how to deal with it. It is not that what the text says is hard to understand. That is fairly straightforward. John the Baptist is in prison and he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” The problem is that we already know who John the Baptist is. Phil Harrold did a great job last week of laying out the territory. John has one job. John is the one wearing the camel’s hair bathrobe in all those great Medieval paintings who is pointing to Jesus. That is what John does. He points to Jesus. Now it seems John has forgotten his job description.

The Church Fathers did not know quite what to do with this. John Chrysostom raises all the obvious questions: “He that knew Jesus before His miracles, he that had learned it of the Spirit, he that heard it of the Father, he who had proclaimed him before all; does he now send to learn of him, whether he is himself or not?” Chrysostom points out to John that his reputation is at stake: “If you did not know that Jesus was surely the one,” he asks rhetorically, “how could your have any credibility? If you are going to bear witness to others, you first need to have some credit yourself.” Chrysostom imaginatively grills John: “Didn’t you say that you were not worthy to untie his shoes? Didn’t you say that he sent you to baptize? Didn’t you see the Spirit descend, and hear the voice that said ‘This is my beloved Son?’ Didn’t you leap in the womb when you were a baby?” Chrysostom is having none of this “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect another?” business. (more…)

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