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					                          ‘ARE WE TO WAIT FOR ANOTHER?’

                         PREACHER : The Ven Peter Lock, Archdeacon

                                      Sunday, December 16th 2007
                                               Advent 3

                                            Matthew 11.2-11

                              Rochester Cathedral

I don’t know whether any of you have heard of Banksy. If you think I’m talking about the legendry
English goal-keeper of the World Cup Winning side of 1966 – you’re wrong! (And it dates you).
Banksy is very much a contemporary, controversial graffiti artist whose main aim I would suggest is to
puncture pretentiousness through satire. He’s controversial because he doesn’t always ask permission
of such laudable institutions as Hackney Council whether he could draws rats on drains or windows
on blank walls which tell a story in themselves of those who live within. They still think of his work as
graffiti and not art. Others are happy to pay thousands of pounds for his work as long as it’s not
painted on the walls of their homes! Possibly his most famous graffiti isn’t in this country but on the
wall that splits apart Palestian and Israeli at the West Bank. Here he painted the scene from the
Palestinian side as if you’re looking through. It is so realistic that the blue sky on the wall matches the
real blue sky beyond which would make the casual observer think that indeed the wall had been blown
open, a huge hole opened up and you could just amble through. Fat chance, of course. But it’s
visionary. And it’s a nuisance to those in authority who built the wall. He has also more recently
painted a young Palestinian girl frisking an Israeli soldier as if they are standing against the wall.

As one who has only recently been introduced to his art I felt that he was the equivalent of a sort of
secular John the Baptist, a deflator of the bumptious and arrogant, and calling all people to look at
themselves again and realise that the world is in need of healing and hope. His is a sort of secular call
to repentance but of course without the further reference that makes John special in our Christian
story – in that his hope is not in satire nor in art but in a person, Jesus Christ. Whilst Banksy might
rely on persuasion John the Baptist’s message relies on faith in the one who is to come, Jesus.

Yet, this is the very question which John asks as the prisoner of Herod incarcerated in the massive
fortress at Machaerus. ‘Are you the one we are waiting for, or do we look for another? In some ways it’s a
strange question for John to be asking, for he is the one who baptised Jesus in the river Jordan and
who saw the Spirit of God alight on him like a dove. That important episode is nuanced with Old
Testament references, as the gospel writer constructs one of the main themes that he wants his
readers and hears to understand – that Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecies from of old. John the
Baptist was the prime mover there, to whom Jesus went. In Luke’s gospel we learn of the relationship
between Jesus and John as cousins. So the strong connection is made. Why now does John begin to
have doubts?

One of the reasons could be from the context of where he is. In prison. If you have ever been to the
Dead Sea region you will know that there are immense temperature changes. Midday is intensely hot.
You keep out of the sun. Indeed when I was there some years ago it was getting that way at 8 am in
the morning. Conversely it can be intensely cold at night. I doubt whether prisoners were helped in
any way to cope with this. So maybe these thoughts came to him in the dead and drear of the night
when sleep is a problem and all sorts of things come to mind. How of course we come to know of
this interior struggle is perhaps also a mystery because it’s difficult to see how his disciples would have
got wind of this unless they were allowed into prison to see him and bring him food. But maybe
there’s an honesty about this story in that John the Baptist, who always seems self-assured and
confident about what he is doing and saying, also has moments when he wobbles in his understanding
about Jesus, just as Peter was to do later on in the gospel story. But what he does is to share his
question with the very person who can answer it – Jesus himself. He doesn’t go to a guru or some
other wise person, he contemplates Jesus. Maybe there is a lesson for us all to learn when we go
through those moments of doubt – can what I believe in really be so? – we ask. Our worship provides
us with that very opportunity – to contemplate Jesus himself through scripture, prayer, reflection and
worship. For the answer which comes back is - that what is envisioned in writings of the prophets is
actually coming to pass in the ministry of Jesus: the blind recover their sight, the lame walk, lepers are
cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the poor are brought good news.1 If you go
back two chapters in Matthew’s gospel you will read there - that’s exactly what has been happening
wherever Jesus has been going and meeting with people in need.

John gets his answer. (Actually as I was writing this my two grandsons, who were staying with us, came
in to tell me that it was time to move the crib figures on. They have been putting the wisemen, sheep,
Mary and Joseph around the house as they journey towards Bethlehem – we haven’t quite established
where that is to be yet – but gradually they will meet up as the days draw closer to Christmas. But it
occurred to me that this was what was happening to John the Baptist – he was being urged to move
on in his faith by asking the pertinent question and hearing an answer which pointed beyond himself to
the person it is all about and the kingdom he has come to establish. The proof of the pudding, as they
say, is in the eating. John is pointed towards the ministry that is Jesus himself.

What John had asked is really the overarching question that lurks behind the gospels and which is in
the minds of all of us as thoughtful believers. Is Jesus the one we are looking for? Is he truly God and
truly man? Or is there another way of finding out the meaning of life and why we are here and for
what purpose? And is there a creator behind all of what we see? And if there is can we say that he is a
God who loves us?

The Christmas story is a profound yes to all this. It’s in the gospels, the graffiti of faith, and it’s worth
even writing on the walls of the proud and in the hearts of the arrogant. As R. S. Thomas, the Welsh
priest poet, wrote in his later poems:

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; the mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.2

Faith, green as a leaf. Now there’s a bit of graffiti for the outside of a cathedral!

    Matthew 11.5
    R.S. Thomas Later Poems quoted by Stephen Platten in ‘Rebuilding Jerusalem’ p 171

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