‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ (Matthew 11:3)
In the film, Miracle on 34th Street, we meet the character of Kris Kringle, a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus. The film revolves around the question of whether the character is the real Santa Claus, and indeed, whether Santa Claus exists at all.
The original film, made in 1947 and which featured a very young Natalie Wood, leaves that question tantalising unanswered, though leads the watcher to think carefully about the old man’s identity. Other remakes of the film, such as the much more recent 1994 version starring Richard Attenborough, try and answer the question for us.
Here, in today’s Gospel, there is another, and not altogether dissimilar question. The followers of John the Baptist come to ask a burning question: who is this man, Jesus? Are you the one who is to come?
They were not the first to ask the question, and certainly would not be the last.
The question is asked when Jesus heals the paralysed man and forgives his sins: Who is he who forgives sins? It is asked by the disciples when Jesus stills the storm: Who is this that the wind and waves obey him? It is asked by Jesus himself at Caesarea Philippi: Who do people say that I am? And when he is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks Who are you looking for?
And it is asked of him at his trial: Are you the Christ, the Son of the living God?
And it has been asked in the centuries since: is he a great prophet, or a political revolutionary, or a religious reformer? Is he just an ordinary man? Did he even exist? Or is he King of King and Lord of Lords? Every question has been asked, and every possible question has been given.
Even the famous atheist author, Philip Pullman, wrote about “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ”.
So when Jesus is asked the question, how does he answer?
Well, he does not try to persuade … at least not in words. He says, [look at the evidence, he says,] “What do you see?”
Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor
[Or in another place, he put the whole thing much more plainly … By their fruits shall you know them.
St Francis said something similar to his followers Preach the Gospel … use words if necessary … ]
It is by example, by acts of mercy, by the experience of his love in action that God is known
[… As we will hear in just a few days now “The Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us”
It is the flesh that we know who he is. In his actions that we know his love. ]
And it is through our actions, the quality of our life, our compassion, our mercy, our forgiveness, our generosity, our love that God’s own compassion, mercy, forgiveness, generosity and love is known, and experienced, and recognised in this cold and often heartless world.