James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
What to do with Darren? Darren was an awkward and shy child. It was time
to hand out roles for the Christmas play, but what role should the teacher
give Darren? She decided on the inn-keeper. It was an important role,
but required Darren only to shake his head and say one line "Sorry,
we've no room." Darren grinned from ear to ear when he learned of
his important role and he couldn't wait for the big night.
It arrived soon enough, and the play was proceeding according to plan.
Mary and Joseph had travelled to Bethlehem and come to the door of the
inn. Joseph knocked on the door and it opened to Darren. "Please
sir, do you have a room we could take?" asked Joseph. Darren shook
his head and replied. "I'm sorry, we've no room".
Now the boy playing Joseph was a particularly confident child, and while
the script called for he and Mary to turn away at this point, Joseph decided
to exercise some dramatic license. "But sir" he said to the
innkeeper, "My wife is about to have her baby and we need somewhere
to stay. Couldn't you find us a room?" Darren's face went white -
this was not planned for! - and he paused for a moment before repeating
his line. "I'm sorry, we've no room."
"But sir" replied Joseph, "We've travelled such a long
way and we've nowhere else to go and my wife is very tired. Surely you
can find us somewhere." Darren bowed his head, shook it sadly and
said, "I'm sorry, we've no room." Forlornly Joseph and Mary
started walking away. Darren, now fully into his role, felt shamed and
saddened. A tear trickled down his cheek. Then his voice was heard calling
out. "Wait! Please come back. You can have my room."
It may not have been according to script, but at that moment Darren gave
perfect expression to the Christmas story!
I wonder what sort of child John the Baptist might have been? Last week
we were introduced in our gospel reading to a strange figure – living
in the wilderness, wearing camel’s skin and eating locusts and wild
honey. He was one of those figures that didn’t fit into normal society.
But he knew where he fitted in God’s plan and he had a passionate
and dramatic part to play. He paid dearly for that part, though. He had
criticised King Herod for his unjust and immoral lifestyle and had ended
up in prison. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus, in effect, whether he
had been playing the right role. Was Jesus the one they had been looking
for? John had dedicated his life to preparing the way. The one for whom
the ancient prophets had been looking, the one who would fulfil their
longing: The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped,
the lame shall leap, tongues will be loosened.
I can sympathize
with John. He had worked so bravely at preparing the way and now he was
no longer free. It must have been a terrible dungeon he was in. He was
held by a despotic ruler, with little or no hope of ever coming out again
and who knew what end he might come to! If he were to end his days there,
it would help John know that he had not been mistaken – that he
had played the right role in God’s plan and prepared the way for
the real Messiah.
I can also understand why John sent disciples to question Jesus. At first
it seems that Jesus’ reply is a bit harsh. He seems to be sending
the messengers back saying: can’t you see and hear that what I am
doing shows that I am the Messiah? If you knew what I was doing, why send
to question? Isn’t it obvious? The Messiah was healing, teaching
and bringing back to life. But he hadn’t freed John from prison.
John didn’t want to be fooled by any partial fulfilment of the Messiah’s
role. He didn’t want to die thinking mistakenly that the one he
had heralded was the real thing. Certainly Jesus seemed to be the genuine
article, but was he?
response was twofold. On the one hand, yes, he was fulfilling the parts
of the prophecies that looked forward to the healing and teaching part
of the Messiah’s role. But freeing prisoners implies a different
power. Healing and teaching are powers of a personal nature. Jesus did
what was possible then and there. To be able to free prisoners you needed
either force of arms or political power. To have those you needed to be
a king. Jesus was not that sort of a king.
disciples were leaving, Jesus spoke in support of John. We may think that
Jesus’ words were spoken to the crowds behind the backs of the returning
messengers, out of earshot, as it were. On the other hand, maybe it was
a sort of farewell speech to the messengers from John. If so, then they
would have been able to take the reassurance of those words back to their
imprisoned master. The reed was Herod’s logo or symbol. The shaking
reed was Jesus’ code language for Herod as a vacillating leader.
The people hadn’t gone out into the desert to look for an alternative
king, when they went to John. Neither was John preparing the way for yet
another political leader, a rival, as it were to Herod. The ordinary people
were not after another earthly king. No, they had recognized the genuine
voice of one who spoke to their hearts and lives. So John was to be reassured
that he had prepared the way for a Messiah who was genuine, one who would
also speak into the depths of people’s hearts and lives. John was
greater than all the previous prophets, he was “more than a prophet”.
He was also the figure who had been promised as ushering in the Messiah
– the Elijah figure to whom earlier prophetic traditions had looked
forward. But John had to end his days in captivity, he who had roamed
freely in the wilds of his country. He had to die in hope, believing that
he had made room for the one who would bring about the fulfilment of the
prophets’ and the peoples’ wishes.
Three men were marooned on a desert island. As the days slowly went by,
they dreamed of what it would be like to be at home with their friends
and family, to be back at their jobs doing the things they loved. One
day one of the men found a bottle that contained a genie. He opened the
bottle and the genie announced that he would grant each of them one wish.
One of the men said, "Boy, I want to be back in England with my wife
and kids." POOF--he was gone.
The second man immediately said, "I want to be back at home with
my fiancé" and again in a flash he was gone.
The third man was left all alone sitting on the sandy beach. He said,
"Boy, it really is lonely with my friends gone. I sure wish they
were back here with me again.
be hoping for all sorts of things this Christmas – and if we were
granted our wildest dreams by a genie, we might find what one wants goes
against the hopes of another. Many of the world’s wishes can now
be granted by science, technology and medical knowledge: many of the things
that Jesus told John he was doing can now be done by humans: the blind,
lame, deaf and diseased can be cured. We also have it within us to make
sure the poor are lifted out of their poverty. But there remain many other
things we long for – this week’s news carries the “hopes
and fears of the all the years” – the world’s leaders
gathered in Bali to stop global warming; Europe’s leaders in Lisbon
signing a treaty for peace and prosperity on our continent; even hope
for the future of our national game with the appointment of an Italian
During this season of preparation for Christmas we are reminded by James
that we are to wait patiently not just for the fulfilment of our wishes,
but for the coming of the Lord, for whom we make room, just like John
the Baptist or even the young Darren!
© Rev Paul Smith