The prophet John, also known as "John the Baptist", is one of my favorite figures from the Bible. Maybe it's my alleged martyr complex, or maybe it's just the way we all tend to see ourselves in the protagonist of every story, but I can see myself in John. Last year I said that I envied him, and that's still true. Yet in the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday in Advent for Lutheran Service Book's One Year Lectionary, I can see myself in John's shoes. This strong man of God, this faithful preacher, the forerunner, asks the Lord, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Lord is good, that He fulfills His promises, that He is my shield and fortress. Yet there are times when doubt assails me. John was imprisoned, to be beheaded in the not-so-distant future. I don't face anything that traumatic, of course. Still, I doubt. I question. I wonder.
I'll be preaching at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Metairie, Louisiana, on December 13. While doing some background reading with the possiblility of preaching this text in mind, I came across the following from Dave Petersen at historiclectionary.com, and it struck me as profound.
Who was doubting, the Baptist or his apostles? More and more I think it was the Baptist. On this side of glory, faith and doubt coexist in the Christian. The Baptist is not a reed shaken by the wind. He abides in a king’s house but in the dungeon. He knows his martyrdom is immanent. He has in no way given up the Faith. And it is faith that seeks comfort and an answer from the Lord, not doubt. It is faith that desires to hear the promises and which knows where to find them. Certainly this is good for John’s disciples, as it is for us to listen in on, but what comfort it must have brough to John in prison. “You are decreasing, cousin. I am increasing. You are to die. But do not be afraid. Look: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the Gospel is preached to the poor. The work of preparation is done. The path is straight and level. I set my face for Jerusalem and I will see you in heaven. And there you can lay down your burdens, set aside your fierce diet and rough clothing, and simply be a member of the household without duties who basks in the joy of my grace.” Least in the kingdom of heaven is not a bad thing.
No matter how deeply we know the truth of what we believe, those moments arise. God grant us all to bring that doubt to Christ, just as John did, that He may alleviate it and feed instead our faith.