Saturday, December 28, 2013

Illusions (Matthew 11:2-11)

“We all suffer from dreams.”
(Bernard Cornwell)

     You can’t blame a person for second-guessing.  John the Baptist had been locked away in the dungeon of King Herod for most of a year, but he had been keeping his eyes and ears open for news about the Messiah that he believed that Jesus was.  What he was hearing was nothing like what he was expecting . . . far from it.  He wondered why Jesus had not yet announced that he was the Messiah . . . the expected one.  He wondered why Jesus had not destroyed the power of the Romans to set the people free . . . used the power to topple Herod and set him free.  John the Baptist was wondering . . . 

     And, who among us would not wonder too?  In this season of Advent we are constantly confronted on the journey with illusions . . . illusions between what we expect . . . what we want . . . and reality.  Reality never seems as good as the illusions.  So it was for John the Baptist . . . his illusion was being shattered by the reality of Jesus and his messiahship . . . and, he was not the only one.  What he believed and longed for, like most of the Jewish people of his time, was not what reality presented, but what they embraced as the illusion . . . a great, powerful military-like king who would come in, stomp the oppressors, and free the people.  Jesus’ methods and style were a long way from that.  Thus the  question that John the Baptist raises: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

     As I stated earlier, “We all suffer from dreams.”  We all suffer from illusions.  We all suffer from hope.  Sometimes our dreams, illusions, and hope keep us from seeing the potential and beauty of the reality that is being offered.  When that happens it is difficult to embrace the gift and allow it to flourish.
     It is in this season of Advent that we experience this clash between the illusion and the reality.  In the illusion we are in the camp of John the Baptist and others, embracing something that we think is what we expect; but, the reality is something completely different.  The reality is not based in violence and power, but in relationship and love.  One way is quick and easy, the other is more difficult and frustrating.  And, as M. Scott Peck wrote in his book, The Road Less Traveled, we humans have a tendency to take the easy way out . . . thus we want the quickest and fastest way to get the results we want.  We don’t want to sit around a campfire, holding hands, singing Kum Ba Ya.  We want to get down to business!

    The anniversary of the Newtown school shooting was marked with another school shooting in Colorado . . . the remembrance was punctuated with more violence and death . . . the illusion was shattered.  This past week as the world gathered to pause and celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela in South Africa . . . inklings of violence and war in North Korea, the Middle East, and other parts of Africa echoed in the background of the celebration . . . shattering the illusion of peace.  Each day in our newspapers . . . on our televisions and radio . . . we hear the shattering of our illusions . . . why can’t we just get what we want?

     We want the Kingdom of God.  We want it now.  So, why can’t God just come down, smash all the barriers that obstruct, and rid us of those who would oppose the kingdom?  God could do it . . . God could pull another great flood like God did with Noah . . . wipe the slate clean and start over fresh with those of us who want the kingdom.  But, the reality shatters the illusion by telling us that the only way the kingdom will ever come is Jesus’ way.  Jesus’ way of love.

     Jesus told us that we are to love the Lord, our God, with our whole being . . . body, mind, and soul.  Jesus also told us that we are to love ourselves so that we could love others likewise.  All this love centers around relationships . . . our relationships with God, with ourselves, and others.  Relationships take time and effort . . . they do not happen overnight.  Relationships are a lot of work.  Who among us . . . after long days of work . . . really want to work that hard?  No, instead we join the chorus with John the Baptist wanting to know: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

     It is difficult to let go of the illusions we hold.  Jesus understands this as we read his response to John the Baptist and his explanation to his disciples . . . it is hard to let go of the illusion to embrace the reality.  Over and over again, Jesus points out to everyone that John the Baptist laid it all out and no one seemed to get it . . . including, apparently, John the Baptist himself.  As much as Jesus would love to have everyone “get it”, he knows that it will take time and lots of effort before the reality of God’s Kingdom manifests itself.  It won’t be something that magically appears . . . as much as we would want it to, but it will take generations who are willing to shatter the illusion and embrace the reality.

     To that end, when the illusion is shattered and the reality revealed, Jesus answered John the Baptist with these words: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”  Following Jesus . . . the real Jesus . . . is not easy.  It is not easy because he is constantly shattering the hazy illusions with the reality of his mandate to love . . . to love God . . . to love ourselves . . . and, to love others.  He calls us to relationship . . . with God . . . with ourselves . . . with others.  We have all been in relationships and we all know how difficult they can be.  Sometimes we think that it is better and easier to dance to the illusion than it is to learn a new dance.  In this season of Advent keep your eyes upon the reality, not the illusion . . . and, may we all realize the Kingdom of God.  Amen. 

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