I went to the Easton Panto on Thursday night.
For those who have not been, it is Robin Hood this year, and, of course, the concept of Robin Hood fighting injustice and taking from the rich, to give to the poor is an enduring theme.
I always think that the telephone waiting music for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs should be that theme tune from the television series of the sixties: ‘Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen….’
But, actually, I was more struck by another theme in the Panto which I found strangely moving…(ridiculous, of course, it is after all a Panto). That was the theme of ‘the return of the king’.
King Richard the Lionheart has gone off to fight the crusades and left his brother John in charge. The country has collapsed to wickedness and vice.
Then King Richard returns to put everything right. He returns in disguise to see what is going on and, ultimately Robin is released and returned his property and position; the Sheriff is incarcerated; peace and fairness are restored.
When John the Baptist, in prison, sends messengers to Jesus to find out if Jesus truly is the Messiah ‘or should we be waiting for someone else’, it is almost as if Jesus is in disguise, like King Richard, moving round his kingdom seeing what is going on, before revealing himself.
But unlike King Richard, Jesus chooses not to cast off the cloak of what theologians call ‘the Messianic secret’ by declaring in the public square ‘yes I am the messiah’ at this stage of the story. He waits for maximum effect until he finally stands condemned before the Jewish council and Pilate.
Instead, he does something else. And what he does is a useful guide for us in our Christian life in the Itchen Valley: He asks the messengers from John to go and look at what is happening around them, what they hear and see: ‘the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear and the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them’. Unlike King Richard, who declares ‘I am King Richard back from fighting the Saracens’, Jesus says ‘You judge if the Messiah has come’.
In Jesus’ path, the slavery of disability, the social isolation of leprosy, the curse of death and the misery of despair are completely defeated. The desert of despair begins to grow flowers of hope…like the passage in Isaiah we have just read. The messengers can see for themselves that the Christ is amongst them.
So too for us, as Christians in Itchen Valley, it is so important what we do for others, how we care for them, how we behave towards them, even when we are stressed. These things reveal who we are……..reveal who He is.
If we care for them, this will prompt others to ask questions about our motivations, that in turn can mean that we can explain how we should all be yearning this Advent, for the return of the King
2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 11:2–6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
35 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8 A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
9 No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Is 35:1–10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.