2,000 years ago, John the Baptizer reminded everyone to watch for the Messiah. They already were watching for the Messiah, but not really. They knew to watch, but they weren’t quite sure what to look for. They knew things would get better when the Messiah came.
When they were having a bad day, they would say, “Today might be lousy, but when the Messiah comes, frustration will be replaced with joy.”
When a friend became ill, they’d say, “It’s no fun being sick, but when the Messiah comes, sickness will be replaced with health.”
When someone lost a loved one, they would say, “This might be horribly painful, but when the Messiah comes, mourning will be replaced with dancing.”
They knew when the Messiah came everything would somehow be put right, but they didn’t know what it would look like, so it was hard to watch for.
Beyond that, they also had their lives to live. They had work to do, relationships to tend, meals to eat, clothes to wash, hobbies they enjoyed. It was hard to watch for the Messiah then; it’s hard now. How easy is it to watch for Jesus today?
One time I was worshipping at another church. Have you ever walked in a room and you were just filled with peace? I had that there. And it was one of those church services where the music functioned perfectly, and the readings and the sermon and the music all went together so well that it was clear that God was there and behind it all.
However, I was sitting in the wrong pew. I was sitting behind two ladies who spent the entire service talking. “You see her up there in the choir. I went to high school with her. She’s got no business up there.” “That communion wine was too sweet. We’ve started getting that wine that comes in the box. It’s good!”
Jesus was there. His Spirit was moving. God was doing stuff in that room. But they missed it. They were too busy talking, too concerned about others, too concerned about themselves, without ever trying to hear God speak to them.
It’s still hard to even make space to watch for God to come. It’s hard to make space for it.
Once I was scheduling a baptism. It was one of those phone calls where we both had our calendars open. “How about two Sundays from now?” “That would be great,” I said. “Oh wait,” they said, “our oldest has a game that day.” “A game? On Sunday?” “Yeah.” “So you want to have a child baptized, but you have a game that day?” “Yes.” “Well, it seems like you have a decision to make.”
It’s hard to even make space to watch for Jesus’ coming. It was hard in Bible times. It’s hard today.
We have now entered the holiday season. If Satan could ruin Thanksgiving, he would turn it from a day to give thanks to God for all you have into a day to sprint to Wal-mart to save five bucks on junk you don’t need. If Satan could ruin Christmas, he would turn it from a celebration of Jesus bringing peace on earth into a frantic, stressed-out time of over- consumption.
John the Baptist might be a helpful example here. He could care less for what everyone else did and what everyone else thought. John could care less about what most people cared about, because to him, life was about looking for the Messiah. He didn’t waste time shopping for clothes because he didn’t want to miss the Messiah. He didn’t waste time on decent meals because he didn’t want to miss the Messiah. He didn’t go have a drink with his buddies, or hang out at the restaurant, he went to the wilderness where there would be no distractions, so he could spend every moment focused on one thing and one thing alone: preparing a royal highway for the King of Glory.
He did it by calling for repentance, by saying the last thing we want to say, that yes, everyone is a sinner, yes, everyone is a disappointment to God, yes, we all deserve hell, yes, everyone needs to seek forgiveness and new life through the Lord.
Then he did it by baptizing. Standing beside the water, watching the dirty guilt and penalty of sin run down the stream.
John made space to watch for the coming of the Lord, and he got to see him come.
I don’t know if you’re the kind of person who makes “to do” lists — whether they’re scrawled on the back of a piece of junk mail or typed into a gizmo — if you have a “to do” list, it’s probably pretty full this time of year. Nonetheless, I ask you in joining me in haphazardly crossing a few things off, and putting at the top of your “to do” list one word: ‘Watch.’ Watch for God, Watch for God to act in your life, watch for God to act in your family, watch for God to act in this church, watch for God to act in this community. I’m putting “Watch” at the top of my list, and I’m going to watch for Jesus to come. I wouldn’t miss it for all the world.