When I was about 13 or 14, digital watches were the thing. Not the all-singing all-dancing LCD jobs that you can buy today for £9.99 practically anywhere. These had plain black or red faces. To see the time you had to press a button on the side to make the LEDs glow. I hankered after a Sinclair Black Watch, but I’d have been delighted with anything similar. I really, really wanted one.
As Christmas approached I asked my dad if I could have a new watch. No promises were made, but I got good vibes. For the next few weeks, whenever I saw an ad for one of these miracles of technology or came across someone wearing one I would take the opportunity to make some comment on how marvellous I thought these things were. I laid it on pretty thick, and dad seemed to agree that yes, it was amazing what they can do these days. The plan seemed to be working.
On Christmas morning there was a small package under the tree, “To Richard, love mum and dad”. As I held it, I knew it was exactly the right size, shape and weight. I had only to remove the wrapper and soon I’d be the envy of my classmates showing off my spiffy new gadget. With mounting excitement I removed the wrapping paper to reveal the box within. Unmistakeably, it was the box of a watch. I could scarcely contain myself as I lifted the lid — to reveal an elegant but distinctly old-technology analogue watch with leather strap and wind up mechanism. To this day I hope I was able to keep the disappointment1 out of my voice:
“Thanks dad – it’s just what I wanted”.
When John was in prison he must have known that his life was nearing its end. He had been the one who announced and welcomed God’s annointed one, Jesus of Nazareth. He’d heard of the great things he was doing, received reports of his amazing teaching – but where were the signs of his Messiahship? When would he call down God’s vengeance on his people’s enemies? When would they find the salvation promised by the prophets. In desperation he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one we’ve been praying for, or should we keep on looking?” (Matt 11:2) You can understand John’s concern – the Messiah that he’d longed for, and thought had arrived, turned out different from what he had expected.
Jesus response was typical of him. Instead of a straightforward yes or no, Jesus says, “Go back and report what you have seen and heard – the blind see, the lame walk – and good news is preached to the poor”. And that, surely, is the key to effective witness for the church today. What we say will always be important, but it is what we do that will carry the most weight. Can we point the honest enquirer to the reconciling and healing love of Christ in our communities? Will they see the broken-hearted finding comfort and the bruised and broken of the world being restored?
All of the soundest doctrine and zippiest praise music are meaningless unless they do.
- It has to be said that my watch lasted much longer than the swanky digital watches that some of my friends received ↩︎