Summary: The third in a series of messages based on the Matthew texts chosen by the Revised Common Lectionary for Advent of 2007.
Judgment and Trouble in the World
**The opening illustration is based on pages 299-321 from the book Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides.
In the fall of 1849, a fur trapper named James White became frustrated with the slow moving pace of his wagon train along the Santa Fe trail. White, his young wife, Ann, their infant daughter and a few other pioneers set out ahead of the wagon train; hoping to make better time on their own. White and the others felt certain that they had moved through the most dangerous Indian territory while traveling in the company of the larger wagon train.
Earlier in 1849, a writer named Charles Averill had published a book called Kit Carson: The Prince of the Gold Hunters. The book was based on the legend that had grown from the real life adventures of Kit Carson, a fur-trapper whose abilities as a “tracker” had brought him into employment with the United States Army. Averill’s book presented Carson as a “super-human” hero who wrestled bears, finds treasure in caves, kills multitudes of Indians – and, at the predictable climax of the book, rescues a young girl who had been kidnapped by the savage Indians. The real-life Carson was an accomplished cowboy, fur trapper, and tracker, but he was not the Superhuman that Averill’s best-selling novel made him out to be.
Just a few days after breaking from the wagon train, James White and his cohorts were attacked by a band of Jicarilla Apaches. An army investigation of the attack site accounted for the bodies of everyone but Ann White, her infant daughter and Mexican servant. Ann, the baby and the servant had likely been abducted by the Jicarilla. Kit Carson was assigned as the scout to the cavalry regiment that would track down the Jicarilla and rescue Ann White, the baby and the servant.
Carson was an excellent tracker and within days, the cavalry troop had come within striking distance of the Jicarilla that had abducted Ann, the baby and the servant. A disagreement between Carson and the Major leading the Cavalry regiment resulted in the delay of an attack. Aware of the presence of the US cavalry, the Jicarilla broke camp and escaped during the night.
As Carson and the Cavalry surveyed the abandoned camp in the early hours of the morning, they found the body of Ann White. She had likely been murdered during the night; just before the Jicarilla’s made their escape. Amongst Ann White’s belongings, Carson and the Calvary troops discovered a well-worn copy of Charle’s Averill’s Kit Carson: The Prince of the Gold Hunters.
Around the camp fire that evening, one of the members of the Cavalry troop began reading the book to the illiterate Kit Carson. This was the first time Carson had encountered his own myth. The stories from Averill’s novel came to haunt Carson. Nearly 10 years after the incident, he once confided in a friend that “he came to imagine Ann White reading it during her captivity.” He feared that the book had given her a false hope. He said, “Knowing that I lived near, I have often thought that as Mrs. White read the book, she prayed for my appearance and that she would be saved.” Carson felt a deep sense of failure. The bodies of the baby and the servant were never found.
As we look back 150 years at the true story of Ann White and Kit Carson we catch a glimpse of the great tragedy of their encounter. Kit Carson struggling to live up to the mythology of his own legend. Ann White, hopefully awaiting a hero who will not arrive on time.
Many people looking back over 2000 years of Christianity; watching we Jesus-followers hope and repent and prepare ourselves for the second coming of Jesus might sense that they are also watching a great tragedy unfold. Christianity confronts the world with a group of people who are faithfully hoping for and awaiting the arrival of a hero who sometimes seems to be woefully late to the rescue.
Judgment and Trouble in the Text
In Matthew 11, we find John the Baptist – much like Kit Carson pondering the death of Ann White – wondering if his own encounters with Jesus were going to turn out to be a tragedy of epoch proportions.
The desert-dwelling, hide-wearing, bug-eating, fire-breathing preacher of repentance who we found last week out by the Jordan River baptizing hundreds of people and proclaiming that God was going to send the Messiah is now in prison. His preaching has offended the political leadership of the day and they have taken him into captivity. John – alone in a deep, dark cell, knowing that his own death is probably quite immanent – begins to question what is going on. He wonders if Jesus is going to overthrow the political regimes of the Herodian Kings and the Roman government and bring the Kingdom of God? And – more practically – would Jesus overthrow the government and bring the Kingdom before he (John the Baptist) was put to death by the political leaders that had thrown him in prison.