“Are you He who is to come or should we look for another?” Matthew 11:3
God’s prophets have a terrible arrest record. Many of them spent time in jail. Others were beaten, and some were killed. Most were unpopular with the people in general as well as the government. Being a prophet was a hard calling, a rough way to get a blessing. John the Baptist learned this first-hand. He was in jail when he sent the question to Jesus, “are you He who is to come or should we look for another?”
Remember, John was Jesus’ cousin, had proclaimed “behold the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world,” had baptized Jesus, and perhaps saw the Spirit descend upon Him as a dove and heard the words “you are my beloved Son” from heaven. If any man was in a position to embrace complete certainty it was John the Baptist.
At first he probably thought the arrest was a temporary detour. After all, the Messiah was here! He would scatter the brood of vipers and hack down all the trees that bore no fruit. But the snakes were still crawling, the trees were still growing, and John began to doubt.
A little time in the darkness will do that to the strongest of men, and no man was greater than John. Doubt turned into disappointment, disappointment into discouragement, and discouragement into despair. John began to wonder if his most cherished belief was misguided. He had to ask, “are you the One?”
Doubt, disappointment, discouragement, despair. Anyone who was spent time in any kind of darkness understands that progression. During this first week of Advent we focus on hope and anticipation. We light a single candle. What can we learn in this meager light?
First, doubt and its depressing cousins do not indicate the absence of light, but underscore the necessity for light. You must think carefully with me here. When you are at your lowest point, you will be tempted to fling away from faith, being convinced that all around you is darkness and darkness is all there is. At that point, you must decide if the core convictions you have learned about God are true. Here is the good news: because they are true, hope is your way forward.
Even at his nadir, John did not give up hope. Not completely. He wondered if his earlier convictions about Jesus were correct, but he also was willing to “look for another.” He knew the light had to be there, even though he had trouble seeing it. You know the truth about Christ, and your challenge does not disprove it, but underscores your need for Him. Do not give up hope even during the most stygian darkness.
Second, even a small amount of light is sufficient to sustain your hope. During this first week of Advent we sing in a minor key (O Come, O Come Immanuel). We read of the prophets who promised God’s intervention but did not know that promise would be kept centuries in the future. John’s words capture our challenge perfectly. The light during this lone candle week of Advent is rather dim. But it is still light.
A candle in the depths of Mammoth Cave would appear to be overwhelmed by the cavernous darkness, but it would be sufficient for you to make your way through. If you are surrounded by darkness right now, cling to the glimmer of hope. God never leaves you without it. It may be faint. It may come in the form of a favorite carol. A card. A child’s Christmas program. It may even be in this week’s GraceWaves. Whatever the form, do not mourn its meagerness, celebrate its presence! God sent it to help you through today. Just look around, and you will see it.
We see through a glass darkly right now, and the first week of Advent is the time to face that uncomfortable truth squarely. God does not reveal His plans for you in whole but incrementally. He gives you just enough light to take the next step. Hope keeps you moving. The glimmer of hope is a promise of a future dawn. Jesus truly was who He claimed to be. Hope in Him.
Dr. Terry Ellis
November 29, 2010