I remember when I was a kid and how my kids are spoiled now a days. My kids, if they want, can watch cartoons at any time on t.v. or on the internet. I wasn’t that lucky. We had cartoons at around 3 each afternoon, and of course on Saturday morning. I don’t know how I managed to get up at 6 or so on Saturday mornings, but I did so that I could watch cartoons. Justice League, Spiderman and Friends, Scooby Doo. I can even catch a few of these on some of the satellite channels. We only had one t.v. in our house, and I remember my sister and I getting into fights over which show we would watch. She’d want to watch the Snorks or the Smurfs, and those things weren’t exactly boyish enough for me. It always seemed like my mom and dad let her watch that stuff more than me though.
However, there was a cartoon that my sister and I usually watched together: the Bugs Bunny Roadrunner Show. I think we both loved Bugs Bunny. The neat part about those cartoons is I can find them on Youtube now. And when I read the Gospel lesson this week, I did a search for one of those Bugs Bunny cartoons that sticks in my memory–the Bugs Bunny-Robin Hood episode.
Throughout this episode, Bugs Bunny keeps trying to escape from the Sheriff of Nottingham. At various points, Little John shows up, and he says, "Dah, Don’t you worry, never fear. Robin Hood will soon be here." And then he blows this little trumpet. Each time, Robin Hood fails to show up.
At the very end of the snippet after Bugs has already defeated the Sheriff of Nottingham, Little John shows up once more. He begins in the same manner as before, "Da...Don’t you worry, never fear. Rrr..."
And then Bugs interrupts, "Yeah, I know, Robin Hood will soon be here. He robs from the rich and he gives to the poor. Yo ho we go skipping tra-la through Sherwood Forest, helping the needy and the oppressed. Aaaa, you been saying that through the whole picture. Well, where is he?"
Little John replies, "Aaaa, you should not talk mean like that because there he is."
Bugs Bunny looks, and sure enough, there is Robin Hood.
Robin Hood says, "Welcome to Sherwood."
Bugs bunny rubs his eyes and face, shakes his head and says, "Nah, that’s silly. That couldn’t be him." And the cartoon ends.
I actually remember the first time I watched this cartoon. Whenever Little John first appeared and proclaimed, "Don’t you worry never fear, Robin Hood will soon be here.", I got excited. My folks had told me the mythical stories of Robin Hood who robbed from the rich to give to the poor, who was a fantastic artist with the bow and arrow, who could split an arrow with a perfect shot, and who saved Nottingham from the evil Sheriff. I wanted to see Robin Hood, and when he didn’t show up, I was most disappointed.
"Where’s Robin Hood?" I wondered. "Is he going to ever show up?"
I am sure that such questioning was going on when John the Baptist arrived in the Israeli countryside two millennia ago. Let’s set the scene by turning in our Bibles to the book of Malachi chapter 3. Remember, this is the last book of the Old Testament–the last prophet who spoke to the people. Chapter 3 begins with these words, "See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts."
Malachi told the people of Israel that the Lord would send His messenger, his herald to prepare His way. I am sure the Israelites looked forward to this promise. I am sure they desperately wanted the Lord to appear. I am sure they wanted Him or His Messiah to come and deliver them and set up His kingdom on earth. The Israelites had suffered much at the hands of their enemies, and it was time for God to make things right.
But after sharing this prophecy, the Israelites heard nothing. Zip. Nada. Nil. After God spoke through this prophet, there was utter silence. Had the Lord forgotten His promise? Where was His herald? Was Malachi wrong? 400 years would pass. The Israelites would be subject to the rule of the Greeks and then the Romans. And still no Deliverer had come. No messenger had shown up to prepare the way of the Lord. The people wondered what was going on. Would this promise ever come true?
Then one day, a scraggly looking man began proclaiming in the desert. He wore camel’s hair clothing. A leather belt was around his waist. His diet was less than appetizing. He was about as far away from the garb and style of the religious leaders of the day. He certainly wasn’t a professional priest or pastor or rabbi. But those who heard him speak knew that something was up.
This man spoke with power, with authority, and with conviction. He said, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
"Da...Don’t you worry, never fear, the Lord of Hosts will soon be here!"
I am sure his words caused more than a few folks to get excited. Was this the promised messenger from God? Was this the Messiah’s herald? Was God about to do something that would change the world? Was God going to overthrow the Romans and establish the Kingdom of Israel? The more John preached, the more some became convinced that God had indeed sent His messenger, indeed had sent His herald into the world. But if John was the herald, who was the Messiah? Who was the Lord of Hosts?
And we see the answer blatantly in John chapter one, "29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel." 32And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God." 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!"
Yes, John pointed to Jesus. The herald spoke. And, of course, Jesus is the one we are preparing for in this season of Advent. But there were those who questioned John. They questioned whether Jesus was the Messiah or not. Yeah, just like Bugs Bunny questioned whether or not it was really Robin Hood that showed up. And just as Bugs doubted, many doubted Jesus. They turned away from Him to pursue their own ideas of what the Messiah should be. They didn’t believe the Herald.
How about you? Do you believe the Herald? Do you believe John was pointing to Jesus? Do you believe indeed Jesus has come to change the way things work: in the world? In the church? In your heart? For if what the herald speaks is true, then we have real reason to rejoice. The Messiah has come and will come again. Amen.