Holy Expectations for the Coming Messiah
by Bishop Chris Giesler
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Generally, when we introduce ourselves to others, we begin with things that are true about ourselves. We share where we live, where we were born, what we do for a living, and details of our family. Rarely do we begin by listing things that are not true about us. But this is precisely what John the Baptist does in our Gospel lesson for today. This passage comes to us in what is known as the prologue to John’s Gospel, which introduces who Jesus is and what his arrival in the world was meant to accomplish. John’s Gospel contains no information about Jesus’ birth. This passage is John’s announcement about Jesus’ arrival in the world.
In this passage, we are also introduced to John the Baptist, who serves as the one who prepares the way for Jesus, announces his arrival, and offers us a bit of Jesus’ job description. This is an essential literary move for the author of this Gospel as the rest of the manuscript describes how Jesus lived into these expectations.
Right here at the story’s beginning, religious leaders are sent to John the Baptist to ask him who he is and what he is all about. They must have done this because of John’s growing following, his rather eccentric manner of dress, his passionate preaching, and the fact that he was performing baptisms. “Who are you?” the religious leaders ask. The answer comes back, “I am not the messiah or a prophet, and I am not the light. The one coming after me is the light. John continues that the one who is to come is far greater than he is.
As we continue our own Advent journey, it is vital that we take stock of what it is that we are expecting from the coming messiah. Who is Jesus to you? How will this year’s celebration of Jesus’ birth change your life?
We have no record of Jesus’s birth or young life in John’s Gospel. We don’t have any record of how Jesus came to know that he was God’s anointed messiah. Luke’s Gospel shows that Jesus and his family were devout Jews who made an annual trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Luke tells us of Jesus at age 12 remaining in the Temple on one such visit to Jerusalem and that he amazed the religious leaders with his questions and understanding, all while his parents frantically searched for him.
But then the record goes blank until the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, which is recorded in Luke’s 3rd chapter, where Jesus receives his baptism and is driven to the wilderness. In Luke’s 4th chapter, Jesus goes to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth; there, he picks up the scroll and reads the portion of the prophet Isaiah, which comes from the Hebrew scripture lesson for this Sunday. This section of Isaiah was written as the people of Israel were returning from captivity in Babylon back to Jerusalem.
I can only imagine that as Jesus grew and studied the Hebrew scriptures, this passage from Isaiah must have jumped off the page and struck the depths of his soul. It was an announcement from a prophet that forever transformed Jesus into what he became.
This forms Jesus’ conception of what it means to be a light to the world. It will be his job to:
Preach good news to the poor
Proclaim freedom to the captives
Provide recovery of sight to the blind
To set the oppressed free
That’s quite a list of expectations…and Jesus lived up to every one of them.
John’s Gospel tells us what John the Baptist expected of the Messiah, and the Isaiah passages give us Jesus’ expectations of himself. Who are we looking for this year? Our expectations of who Jesus is to be for us will often cause us to miss him when he does appear. Our expectations of Christmas do the same thing. I have come to see that it is not just commercialism that keeps us from seeing Jesus in this Advent and Christmas season; it is our own sense of nostalgia.
Finally, take note of how Jesus saw himself. His mission was primarily about meeting the needs of those suffering and needing a sense of God’s love and care. Like John’s expectation, Jesus saw himself as one who would bring light to those who sat in darkness. As we prepare our hearts for the coming Messiah, how do we see ourselves responding to Jesus’ presence in our lives? How can we be a light to those in the dark corners of today’s world?