When we are to meet a total stranger at a restaurant we may tell each other what we will be wearing to make identification easier.
In the gospel lesson for the third Sunday in Advent, (Matthew 11:2-15) John wonders how he is going to recognize the Messiah. From prison, he sends his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Jesus sends word back to John, that he is fulfilling the signs that Isaiah pointed to as signs of the Messiah’s coming (Isaiah 35:1-10). The blind receive their sight. The lame walk. Lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. Even the dead are raised. And the poor have the good news preached to them.
Jesus goes on to call attention to just who John was. He was the messenger sent to prepare His way. John was the last of the Old Testament style prophets. Like his predecessors, John was unmovable. He did not compromise. He was no reed bending to the wind of public opinion. He had no one advising him on the most photogenic apparel.
He was a prophet pointing out the sins of the people. He may have been expecting Jesus to come with an axe in hand to cut down those who did not produce fruit of repentance. But Jesus came with the fertilizer of the gospel to give the barren trees another chance to bear good fruit. He came to turn chaff into grain that would be saved from the unquenchable fire and gathered into God’s granary as wheat. After all Jesus is the Son of God for whom nothing is impossible. He comes with the Holy Spirit and fire, but the fire will be in the form of tongues on his disciples’ heads on Pentecost. Then the Holy Spirit will fire up their zeal, courage and faith as they preach of God’s salvation in Jesus.