Wednesday, 28 December 2011

‘I Am Not the Messiah’ (John 1:20): Of Undue Anxieties and False Alarms:


Isaiah 61:1-2. 10-11; I Thess 5:16-24; John 1:6-8. 19-28

On this third Sunday of Advent, Jews from Jerusalem have sent priests and Levites to ask John the Baptist to declare his identity. “Who are you?” (V 19) they ask. But having admitted he is not the messiah they still ask; “What are you then? Are you Elijah? And he said, ‘I am not.’ Are you the prophet? He answered ‘No’ (John 1:21).

The Jews can wait no longer. They are overwhelmingly anxious. They even have the kind of false alarms that we all occasionally experience, especially when we are waiting for those truly precious to our hearts. We imagine at such times that every ship that docks, every plane that lands, every vehicle that pulls up has brought the one we were waiting for. Sometimes, we even see others exactly like those we are waiting for and we draw closer in excitement, only to retreat in disappointment. (I am told that first time parents have many false alarms of labour…).

Some Pharisees have also gone to John the Baptist. “Why then do you baptize if you are not the messiah or Elijah or the prophet” (John 1:25). Among the reasons John the Baptist gives for not being the messiah is the fact that he baptizes with water as well being unworthy to untie the sandal straps of the Messiah (v 25). These are weighty distinctions that we will hopefully revisit someday in our Sunday Bread.

The question we must however raise and attempt to respond to today is whether we have rightfully identified the Christ of our Faith. What signs could there be that we are worshipping Jesus of Nazareth; the true Messiah. The sheer number of churches and ministries in our country alone points to the possibility that a good portion of us could have settled for contraband messiahs!

Hear what the true Messiah says of his divine mission and vision;

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me
To bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free
And to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2).

The Ministry of Christ as we may all see is tinged with mildness and mercy. He comes to redeem those who do not belong, the rejected or less respected, the poor, people who are marginalized in society, the unclean, the sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes… He has overflowing compassion for all humanity. He is meek and humble without losing urgency, radicalness and authority.

And if the foregoing is the authentic identity of our saviour, then you might share my reservations with the powerful televangelists who send scores of believers down by the wave of a handkerchief. They even have full time ushers to assist members to fall with dignity. When our attraction become miracle healings; when our testimonies border on wealth after a period of languishing in unyielding poverty; when our families lack peace because we are no longer available to our children and spouses in the name of harvest crusades, then we have most certainly lost the way. Something is terribly wrong with our understanding as well as our choice of a messiah. These preachers who wield more power than the son of God – methinks – have a different messiah; not the one born in the manger in a little known village of Bethlehem. Not the son of Joseph, the village carpenter. The one we are waiting for.

Behold the simplicity of the son of Mary and think again.

But we are not the first to donate ourselves to religious hoaxes. St Paul, while urging the Thessalonians not to despise prophetic utterances tells them, ‘test everything; retain what is good’ (I Thess 5:20-21).

Our anxieties and false alarms have led most of us astray. True Christian spirit is peace-filled, cheerful, supportive of the weak, patient with all (I Thess 5:14). If we are familiar with these experiences, then we are most certainly home and dry in our Christian faith.


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