When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he found himself starting to wonder. He was, if you’ll pardon the expression, a little on the fence, even as he sat behind bars. Was this really the Messiah? How could he know? How could he see the truth if he couldn’t see the man with his own two eyes? He sat in his cell, doing a bit of mental to-ing and fro-ing until he came up with a brilliant idea. He would send his disciples to ask the man directly, Are you the one we’ve been waiting for or not? It was, if you’ll pardon the expression, a light-bulb moment. He would just get the answer straight from the horse’s mouth.
When Jesus saw John’s disciples heading towards him, the determination he saw in their faces made their purpose crystal clear. They were clearly men on a mission, looking for answers, and when they opened their mouths they immediately laid it on the line. They didn’t beat around the bush or pull any punches. Are you the one we’ve been waiting for? And so Jesus tells it to them straight. Look at me, he says. Look at all that I have done and said. Don’t you see? The proof, if you’ll pardon the expression, is in the pudding.
But can we pause here for a moment and acknowledge that of all the idioms I just threw at you, “the proof is in the pudding” is one that makes absolutely no sense? It’s as ridiculous a phrase as “you’ve got another think coming.” The proof is in the pudding? It sounds as if you might find a revolver with Colonel Mustard’s fingerprints on it if you dig around long enough in a bowl full of Jell-O. But do a little investigative googling, and you too can discover the sense in “the proof is in the pudding.” The original idiom was first recorded in the Middle Ages, not as the proof is in the pudding but as the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Now we’re getting somewhere. Of course, it helps to know that “proof” here has the older meaning of a test or a trial, not of as a synonym for the word evidence. The proof is a test, so the testing of the pudding is in the eating. This is beginning to make sense. And it will make even more sense when we realize that the pudding in question is not a chocolatey, creamy, dessert but rather a pudding in the old-fashioned, British sense of the word – a chunky, meaty sausage, which may or may not have been cooked all the way through, which leads us back to why the proofing is so darned important. It seems to have been Americans in the 1920’s who shortened the phrase to the proof is in the pudding. Apparently the stresses of Prohibition caused the populace not only to shorten their patience with return on investments and the length of their skirts but also their idioms, sometimes beyond all comprehension.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In other words, you have to test the product – or the person – to see if it’s true, if it’s good for you, if it will nourish and sustain you or cause upset and dis-ease. Which is exactly what John’s disciples are up to here. They want more than just a verbal confirmation that Jesus is Messiah. They’ve heard that line before; heck, they’ve even spoken that line before. They heard John the Baptist talk about Jesus’ baptism, about the voice that spoke from the heavens, calling Jesus Beloved Son. They’ve listened to John’s words about repentance and the kingdom that is coming, and they’ve seen him cast his steely eyes upon Jesus as he did so. The kingdom is coming, they’ve heard him say, and the start of it is standing over there in those sandals, the latch of which I am unworthy to stoop down and tie up.
John’s disciples already knew what had been said about Jesus. They knew what they had heard, but now they wanted more – they wanted proofing. Had Jesus simply said to them, why, yes, I am the Messiah, please go tell John the good news, they would have gone home slightly, but not entirely, reassured. But Jesus offers them more than just a verbal confirmation. Jesus offers proof. Test me, he tells John’s disciples. Test me and then see how you feel. Look and listen, and tell John what you hear and see. The blind see. The lame walk. Lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear. People are raised from the dead, and the poor lay joyful claim to the Gospel. The proof of the Messiah is in the seeing, in the noticing of the miraculous things that that Messiah does, not just in the word that he is. A pudding can look like a pudding but still not be good for eating; if a Messiah claims the name but does nothing with it, he is as good as a pudding half-baked.
The proof of the Messiah is in the seeing, which leads me to this tricky question. What have you seen? If the disciples of John came to you and asked you this one simple question – Is Jesus the one we have been waiting for? – what would you say? If Jesus were to say to you, Go and tell all that you have seen and heard…what would all that you had seen and heard be? Would you have a story to share, of the lame leaping or the speechless singing for joy? Would you tell of a moment you felt God’s hand reach out and still your anxious heart? Would you tell of a time when you saw a relationship mended, an old wound bound up and anointed with holy balm? Would you tell of a job found, a need filled, a belly fed? Would you tell of a time that you heard No and thought that it would be the end of you, but then found that No opened up an entirely new set of Yeses in your life? Would you tell of a physical healing, a prayer answered, a broken body made whole? Would you tell of a holy death, a hopeful passing that made real for you the truth of the resurrection? What would you say?
I know what I would say – that I have known God in the touch of a stranger, that I have heard God’s answers to me in profound and unexpected and sometimes frankly hilarious ways, that I have felt God listening when I sang Kyrie eleison, that I have known God by the gifts of people brought into my life. That’s what I would say. I don’t know what you would say, but I hope you do. I hope that if someone asked you – Is Jesus the one we’ve been waiting for? – you would have the most marvelous proof for your pudding. I hope that you would say, look and see all that the Lord has done for me! Please, let me tell you of all the ways I have been wondrously and miraculously fed.
And if you don’t know what your proof would be, well then welcome to Advent. What better time than Advent to do some thinking and praying about what your pudding’s proof? What better time to ask yourself your own simple questions… like, what is it about Jesus Christ that brings you here? What is it about Jesus Christ that brings you joy? What is it about Jesus Christ that brings you comfort, or conviction, or that calls you to do something more than you ever thought possible? What is about Jesus Christ that makes this season a time of truly happy expectation?
Our world needs your answers. The broken and wounded and afraid and cynical and beat-up and above-it-all are out there, waiting to hear what you have to say, waiting to hear what you have seen and heard, waiting, whether they know it or not, for the gift you have to give them. So tell them. This is the proof in your pudding. For the proof of the Christian is in the bearing witness. They will know we are Christians by our love, ‘tis true, but not just by our love but by our love in Jesus’ name. This is how we keep the Christ in the Christian – by bearing witness to all that our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us, to the ways we have seen him be Messiah in our lives. We must be both energetically explicit and honestly humble about this. The world has had enough of Messiahs in word only, who, once tasted, are full of bitter judgment and nauseating exclusions. And the world had enough of Messiahs in word barely, who, once tasted, leave the stomach empty and grumbling for more. We have more to offer – a real witness to a real Christ, really present in this wine and this bread, really present in the people in these pews, really coming at Christmas. We have more to offer than, as one contemporary theologian puts it, “ignorance on fire or intellect on ice.”* We have real food, meat indeed, saving sustenance that delights both the heart and the belly. We have real food, and the world is starving.
So stir up your stories, you faithful. Stir up your souls and rejoice. Stir up your witness to all that you have seen and heard. Stir up your proofs of the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, in this world and in the next. Stir up your pudding, and let the proof be in the eating.
*Brian McLaren, taken from his latest book The Great Spiritual Migration
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
11 December 2016, The Third Sunday of Advent
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia