John the Baptist, while in prison, sent one of his disciples to Jesus to pose the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Are you the one?
That seems to be a pretty ironic question coming from the guy who baptized Jesus . . . who stated that he was unworthy of baptizing Jesus, that it was Jesus who should be baptizing him. John had a pretty good inkling of who Jesus was . . . he was the one! So, why is he now asking this question about whether or not Jesus is the one? If anyone should know, it is John.
John is waffling.
Waffling, according to the dictionary, is a failure to make up one’s mind. It is a kind of back and forth with a decision . . . one moment it is yes, the next it is a no, then maybe . . . back and forth. John’s question is waffling.
Jesus’ time is not that much different than our times. It would be silly to think that all the Jews of Jesus’ time thought alike . . . that they believed the same way . . . that they were all out of the same religious mold. They weren’t; no, they had different teachers or rabbis, they have different theological outlooks, they had other religions to choose from . . . there was more than one way of faithfully looking at what was taking place in the world. There were lots of choices.
One of my favorite children’s sermons had to do with ice cream and Baskin Robbins. Ice cream is ice cream . . . but the reality is that there are lots of different flavors of ice cream. Baskin Robbins proclaims that they have a minimum of 31 flavors, but that they are all still ice cream. People have a choice of what they like in the flavor of ice cream. Isn’t it frustrating to go to an ice cream parlor and get behind someone who cannot make up his or her mind as to which flavor of ice cream they want? They can’t make up their minds . . . they waffle back and forth.
Well, God is a lot like Baskin Robbins . . . there is one God, but there are a whole bunch of flavors. For example, let’s just take our community and the Christian bodies of faith that are represented within our town’s limit. We have a Lutheran flavor . . . a Catholic flavor . . . a Baptist flavor--in fact, two Baptist flavors . . . a Wesleyan flavor . . . remnants of a Episcopalian flavor . . . and, of course, our own flavor--the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). If there were only one flavor, there would be only one church in the Joliet Community. Beyond Joliet there are even more flavors . . . Presbyterian, Methodist, Mennonite, Greek Orthodox, a ton of Baptist--just to name a few in the Christian flavors. There are also other flavors that are not Christian . . . Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist. Each offers a flavor of God to those who would like to experience that flavor. There are lots of choices . . . now and in the time of Jesus.
Waffling is not uncommon when it comes to faith . . . it is how we grow in our faith. This “back and forth” . . . this internal debate . . . the questioning . . . the wondering. John was taught one way to believe, but was also exposed to other ways of believing . . . including the theology of the Messiah. They all sounded good. One day it was this belief, the next day it was another belief . . . which flavor was the right flavor . . . the right choice? “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Inquiring minds want to know.
In this little story Jesus does several things: First, he confirms that he is the one . . . Jesus tells John’s disciples to go and tell John what he has seen . . . blind see, lame walk, people are cured, deaf hear, and the dead are raised . . . how much more evidence does one need? Second, he squashes the rumor or belief that John the Baptist is the one everyone is looking for as the Messianic figure . . . John is the prophet . . . the one who brought the good news of the Messiah . . . the one who blazed the trail. John is not the Messiah. He is not the one. Third, and last, he paints a picture that is the opposite of what the world views as a kingdom . . . it is not like the people were experiencing in King Herod or the Romans; no, it was not based on force, but on love . . . the power was in love, not violence, fear, and intimidation.
Jesus is the way.
But, guess what? Just like there are many flavors of ice cream . . . many flavors of God, there are many ways of understanding Jesus and his way. Not everyone agrees with exactly what are the ways of Jesus or even what the will of God is. There are a lot of interpretations and beliefs out there . . . which one is the right one? The correct one? Not everyone likes the same flavor . . . think about it . . . we are a community of a little over 600 people and we have at least seven flavors of God to choose from.
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone . . . maybe even God . . . would just tell us exactly what we are to believe, how we are to be faithful, and how we are to live a faithful life? To give us something solid that we could hang on to so that we can quit all our waffling? Especially when it comes to our faith?
You bet it would . . . but, it isn’t going to happen.
We are going to waffle. We are going to waffle because the bottom line comes down to us understanding our personal relationship with God . . . not what someone else tells us to belief, but what we believe. And, we all know that what we believe is constantly changing as we continue to grow . . . as we continue to be older. What we believed when we were children is long gone and replaced with the lessons and faith we learned through years of making the journey towards a closer and more intimate relationship with God. Our waffling is what has made us the people we are today.
Are you the one? This is not a question of disbelief or unbelief, but is an honest question of inquiry in hopes of growing closer to the Holy . . . of growing closer to Jesus . . . to God.
The season of Advent . . . the journey of Advent . . . is a journey towards and into the Holy. It is a season in which we are hit with a proposal . . . a choice . . . thrown a promise, and asked to explore it. To explore it in order to grow closer to the Holy and to begin bringing forth the Kingdom of God. It is an opportunity to grow. It is not something that we have to wait around for . . . it is something we can experience right now. We do not need to wait. Jesus has shown us the way.
Asking questions is how we learn . . . how we grow . . . how we move from one place to another. Advent seemingly gives us permission . . . expects us to ask questions in order to grow closer to God and bring forth the Kingdom of God. In asking questions we are given opportunities and choices . . . and, if we take our faith seriously, there will always be questions . . . always be waffling.