One thousand and ten.
That is a number I’ve been looking at for a few weeks now. It’s the number that’s posted on the traffic alert sign on 76 coming and going to the office. While I’m driving this number blinks at me, one thousand and ten, men, women and children killed on Ohio roadways in 2015, up 8% from last year. I’ve spent this whole year reading this sign post during my drives, from the moment I realized it was this there, sometime in March when it read 256, up 13% from last year to every road trip since on 76 I’ve watched that number climb higher and higher: 365, 523, 681, 877 all the way up to 1,010 traffic related deaths up 8% from last year. (At least in some sense the percentage has gone down a bit, but still…) If you’ve got a lot of time on your hands to think while your driving back and forth on 76, like I do, 1,010 is a number that sticks in your head and forces you to ask some questions. Who were those 1,010, were they young or old, was it their fault or did something happen to them, where were they going? That’s 1,010 that won’t see Christmas this year. Occasionally, if you’re feeling morose you let yourself ask the other kind of question like will I end up being on that board, will my life turn into a statistic that someone else looks at? But… you don’t let yourself linger to long on that one of course, because if you did, you would start to ask yourself some of the deeper questions. “What happens when I die?” “What am I doing with my life and is it time well spent?” “Does any of it matter in the end?”
We have answers to those questions too. Answers that we like and answers that we want to hear and we keep looking for validation, for someones that have the same kind of answers that we want to hear. We ask, are you the one we’re looking for or should we keep looking?
Sometimes we answer those questions by saying: I’m doing just fine, there’s nothing wrong, I don’t need any help, I’ve got it all under control. We ask are you the ones we’re looking for that will agree with us, that we’ve got it all under control and you’ve got it all under control, so we’re doing just fine.
Sometimes we answer those questions by saying, shoot I don’t feel like I’ve got it together, I feel ashamed because of the things I’m doing and I don’t like feeling that way. We ask are you the ones we’re looking for that are doing the same kind of shameful things that I am and if we’re doing it together then we won’t have to feel ashamed anymore because theirs more than one of me doing this, it can’t be wrong if we’re doing it together.
Sometimes we answer those questions by saying these pursuits I’m chasing after, that I spend all of my time on, pursuits like anger, greed, jealousy, gossip, putting others down to feel important, are the right way to go, it’s what we want to do. We ask are you the ones we’re looking for that are doing the same kind of things that I want to do so we can be in agreement and I don’t feel like what I’m doing is wrong.
In our Gospel reading today, we hear the prophet John the Baptist, asking the same questions. He’s in prison, he’s reading the numbers on the sign, 1,010 and he’s not wondering, he knows that in just a little time he will be 1,011 because of the drunk and unpredictable king that imprisoned him. But he has been preparing the way for the promised Savior, telling people to be baptized, to repent and worship God because the savior has come in Jesus. It’s been all good, doing his job well, but now, at this moment, when his number is literally up, this is when it really hits the hardest and he needs to know, Jesus, are you the one I’m looking for, the one that will agree with me and what I want right now?
The answer Jesus gives to John, was not the answer that he necessarily wanted, not the one that would free him from jail or save his earthly life from the drunken king. No, I may not be the one you are looking for but I am the One who was sent by God that you need. This is what I look like, I am the one who gives the blind sight, who makes the lame walk, who cleanses the lepers and raises the dead. I am the only one who can and does bring Good News from God. I am the one who was born of the virgin and will be the one crucified on the cross and will be raised from the dead on the third day. This is who I am, the one God sent, the one you need.
One thousand and ten, that number is ticking away for us, this moment, this second. Each and every one of us is 1,011, whether it is the number of accidents, cancer, old age, illnesses, what ever that statistic is we are 1,011. So the way we answer those questions matter quite a bit. There are a lot of places you can go where you will find people who will agree with, who will say we’re all just fine together, we won’t feel shame because we are doing it together, or keep pursuing that, we are too, you can find that anywhere. But do you really need someone to agree with you, is that what you really need, will that really save your life and soul, we who are not at all able to save ourselves from that inevitable 1,011?
What we really need is not the one who we want but the one who we need, the only one sent from God to redeem and save us, Jesus Christ born in the manger and died on the cross and raised on the third day, not the one we were looking for but the one we need. With Jesus it’s not about us looking for Jesus to agree with us, what we want to do and how we want to live, but about us learning to conform and be shaped by who Jesus is and the life He has called us to live.
If we find others who conform to us, you’ll only end up getting more of the same. Broken, sinful human beings being broken and sinful together producing more brokenness. But with Jesus in faith we participate in who He is, we are children of God, beloved, healed, forgiven and learning to live out that life as Jesus himself did. People just produce people but God creates children of God.
Right now, while the numbers are still ticking, with the reality that we know we will be 1,011 stop looking for those who will simply agree with you but receive the one born on Christmas who transforms you into a child of God. Amen.
(After I shared this sermon on the Second Sunday in Advent driving home the numbers had changed again, 1,029. Time goes by whether we like it or not, let’s not let the message slip by either of us.)