You Can’t Always Get What You Want

When Mick Jagger wrote the Rolling Stones hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, he originally wanted to include a gospel choir. He ended up with the London Bach Choir instead, which I guess was not what he wanted, but what he needed? The song was written in 1969 as a kind of elegy for the unfulfilled goals and aspirations of the 60’s peace and love movement. Pete Townsend of the Who spoke to this same issue in a New York Times interview last week.

“What we were hoping to do [in the 60s] was to create a system by which we gathered in order to hear music that in some way served the spiritual needs of the audience. It didn’t work out that way. We abandoned our parents’ church, and we haven’t replaced it with anything solid and substantial. But I do still believe in it.”

Maybe Mick should have included a gospel choir for his song, because I think it gets to the heart of our gospel passage from Matthew this morning. Along with Mick and Pete, John the Baptist appears to have hoped for something that he felt was unfulfilled. John was in prison for telling truth to power. He condemned Herod for marrying his divorced brother’s wife. Herod tried to silence him by putting him in the slammer.

In any case, John begins to wonder about his cousin, Jesus. So he sends his disciples to ask Jesus this question. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Remember, not long before this John pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He said of Jesus, “He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” And as he baptized Jesus, John heard God the Father proclaim, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.”

So, with all that evidence, how could John wonder about Jesus? “How can you stand next to the truth and not see it?” as Bono sings. It’s kind of comforting for those of us who have occasional doubts (which I think would be all of us) that even John the Baptist had his own questions.

So why did he doubt? Well, for starters, being in prison doesn’t help. And isn’t this usually true for you and me? When things go south, our faith can quickly waiver. That’s a real shame too, because when things do go south, that’s when we need God the most.

Alert Almost Daily Devotional readers will know the answer to this question.

Where is God’s office? God’s office is at the end of your rope. And, the end of your rope does not have to be a one-time place of extreme desperation, although God’s office is certainly there. I have a friend who says that we are all just three bad days away from a nervous breakdown and most of us are already on day two!

It seems to me that we find ourselves at the end of our ropes multiple times per day. We are in our own metaphorical prisons, and those are the moments when we need help outside of ourselves. The beauty of our life in Christ is that those moments are the occasions not of despair but discovery. We discover that God is there; He is with you and for you.

It does not appear, however, that John the Baptist was experiencing God with him and for him. He questioned whether Jesus was the one to come because, like every other Israelite, Jesus did not meet up to his expectations of what a real Messiah was supposed to be.

John and the rest of God’s chosen people wanted and expected a Messiah to set them free from the bondage of Roman oppression. They wanted and expected a Messiah to come in power and glory and might. If Jesus was the one who is to come, why was John, the great prophet, the greatest of those born among women, smoldering away in a dank prison?

Let’s fast forward to mid December 2019. In her sermon last week, Marilu reminded us that expectations are premeditated resentments. That means when you expect a certain outcome, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and or anger.

This is especially true at this time of year. You expect certain people to be at your Christmas table, but they are absent and you are disappointed. The people that are there you expect to behave in a certain way, but they do not and you are angry. You expect Christmas itself to deliver whatever the elusive “Christmas Spirit” is, but it does not. You can’t always get what you want.

You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need. Another way to say that is God gives the world a Savior who comes to those in need. How does Jesus answer John’s question? “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

There is good reason our collect for the Third Sunday of Advent says that we are “sorely hindered by our sins”.  This passage clearly shows us that the Savior comes to the sorely hindered: the blind, the lame, the deaf, and the poor.  In the simplest terms, the Savior comes to those who need saving.

The ultimate category of the sorely hindered in Jesus’ list (which He takes frothe prophet Isaiah) is the dead.  When you are dead to rights, done for, dead in the water, a dead duck is when your eyes are opened to see the one who is to come and the one who has now come. In a Christmas sermon on the Virgin Mary, Martin Luther tells us “God allows (us) to be powerless and oppressed so that everyone thinks they are done for, yet even in that very moment God is most powerfully present…. When the power of man fails, the power of God begins.”

And the power of God is solid and substantial. And for those of us that feel like you are already on the late afternoon of your second bad day, remember what happen to Christ Jesus on the third day: He was raised from the dead! As our friend Robert Capon says, “at the very worst, all you can be is dead – and for him who is the Resurrection and the Life, that just makes you his cup of tea.”

You can’t always get what you want, but in Christ you always get what you need. You get what you need, because Jesus Christ is what you need, and everything – absolutely everything – depends on Him, the One we’ve been waiting for.

I’ll close with a snapshot. For the past 2 weeks, a friend brings his almost 3 -year old son downstairs in the morning and gets him to wait at the bottom of the steps. Then the young dad goes across the dark living room to the Christmas. He says, “Ok son… wait… wait… wait…Now!” He plugs in the tree and his son shrieks in ecstatic shriek of delight, as if he had no idea what was coming his way. 15 days in a row! Because, sometimes what you need is also what you want.

Amen.