We in the church have made our doubts into something that has become a negative word for many. It is rarely used in a favorable way. For example, if I say to you, “I have my doubts about something.” You would probably surmise that I don’t think too favorable about the matter. Faith, not doubt, is the great word of the church. I love the following quote from Fredrick Buesner who said the following:
“If you don’t have doubts you’re either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants-in-the-pants of faith. They keep it alive and moving.”
I have a suspicion that many among us have our doubts about matters of faith. Perhaps you do not share these feelings with anyone; but your doubts are there, and they are real. Your worship does not express your doubts, uncertainties, and skepticism. In facing this situation, all of us at times cry out with the man in the Gospel, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” This capacity to doubt can often lead to some of life’s most profound questions.
Times when I find myself doubting faith, I remember that doubt is not the opposite of having faith, in fact doubting is simply one aspect of having faith in something. Take for example the main character in our Gospel text this morning. Such was the case for John the Baptist. His question – “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” – grew not out of his uncertainty, but out of his doubt. John the Baptist had heard about the words and deeds of Jesus, but what he had heard did not match up with his expectation of the Messiah.
After all, Jesus was born not to royalty, but to a peasant woman. He did not function as a military ruler or one who lead with power and might, but as a servant. He came not as a judge, but as a forgiving redeemer. He did not bring condemnation; he brought God’s love. He did not associate with the religious establishment, but he went from village to village associating the marginalized. He spent his time and energy with the least and the lost. He was most concerned with the powerless: the blind and the lame, the lepers and the deaf, and the poor and the outcast. And Jesus dared to teach the weak occupied the most important place in the Kingdom of God.
John the Baptist became confused about the way in which Jesus talked about being the messiah. He had doubts about Jesus. No doubt, he was concerned. He spoke the truth to power and as a result he was imprisoned on account of his believe about Jesus. His skepticism caused him to send one of his buddies to Jesus with the question: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Without pause, Jesus answers them,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
And that is one of the ways that we will have to respond to the One who comes to us during this season. We will be forced to respond based on what we see and hear. The One who is coming will not force himself on us. No other person has the power to make us decide. Our response will rest on what we hear with our ears and see with our eyes. That was the way it was for John the Baptist and that is the way it is for you and for me.
There is a danger that we can look for Jesus in all the wrong places and listen to all the wrong voices. The danger is that we look to the places of power, privilege and prestige as a sign of Jesus’ coming. But chances are pretty good that we will not see Jesus in the halls of power and prestige.
Instead, Jesus will be found where sight is given to the blind, legs given to the lame, hearing to the deaf, and new life is found for the dead. The Messiah is found wherever the powerless are given power. Want to see Christ? Look to the parts of today’s world where the weak are being made strong.
It happens all the time, we simply need to open our spiritual eyes to see the power of God at work. Weakness becomes strength for the homebound who receive a visit, for a homeless family who is housed in a shelter on a cold winter’s night, for a sick person who receives a visit from her friend, for a hungry child who receive nourishment because of the food pantry.
There is also a danger that we will not respond to the One who is to come because we do not hear his voice. The reason that we do not hear his voice is because we are listening to the wrong ones. Instead of responding to the voice of the Shepherd, we hear and respond to the voice of the commercial Christmas. There are simply too many voices this time of year that appear so promising, alluring and so full of power, yet they are simply empty. That danger for us is that we will listen only to those voices that promise us privilege, security, and power. We buy into the idea that we need more stuff to live happy. And the greater danger is that we will not year the Voice of the coming One beyond and above the noisy crowd.
Only when we slow down and listen are we able to hear the voice of the shepherd. Only when we are alone, quiet and listen for the voice of Christ, does the story of Christmas make any sense. Only then our doubts are overshadowed by our faith in Christ.
But, there is an even greater danger than the risk of looking in the wrong places and listening to the wrong voices. It is the danger of not looking afresh at what Jesus did and not listening anew to what he said. One of the ways that we can prepare for Christmas is to study again the deeds of Jesus and to read again the words of Jesus. Like John the Baptizer, we need to respond based on what we see and hear in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. If we do not study Jesus’ deeds and listen to his words, then we will make the coming One into something that he is not.
Because of his doubts, John the Baptizer introduced us to the One who is to come. And like him, we will have to respond on the basis of what we hear and see.
As we move swiftly through the rituals of the season, let us not fail to look and to listen. Not looking and not listening might cause us to miss the point of it all, and that would be a sad and terrible thing.