Dec22FriAdvent 3: John 1 December 22, 2023 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
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- Pr. Sebastian
As believers, we are called to be witnesses to the light of Christ.
But how do we fulfill this role and reflect His light amidst the bleakness and the desperation all around?
Today, we ponder the testimony of John the Baptist
and learn from his example of bearing witness to the light of Christ.
John the Baptizer’s told people to:
“prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.”
He preached a message of repentance and baptism,
calling people to turn away from their sins
and prepare their hearts for the arrival of the long-awaited Savior.
He was sent by God and
(V7) he came as a witness to testify to the light
(And the Word that was life, the light of all people).
John was not the light himself, but through his testimony,
others were able to see and believe in the true light.
John's humble position and selfless attitude
stand out as examples for us to follow.
When questioned by the religious leaders,
John does not elevate himself
but instead points to the true light,
the one who was to come after him.
He denies being the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet,
fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah as the voice crying out in the wilderness.
John recognizes that his role was simply to prepare the way for Jesus,
and he does so with passion and purpose.
The religious leaders are very concerned about John’s identity,
and so they ask him repeatedly: who are you?
On whose authority do you do preach and baptize?
They want to figure out if he is a charlatan, a pretender,
or … maybe someone with divine authority and calling.
The leaders know there are always people cropping up
who claim to be speaking for God,
but only a few of them really are.
So they interrogate him.
This only makes sense,
and is something we have to do all the time.
When the latest trend appears,
or the phone call, text or email crops up:
we have to determine; who is it from?
Is it really from CRA, FedEx or your bank,
or is it from some scammer or purported Nigerian Prince
or some other pretender?
(This is so important esp. during this holiday season when scams abound.)
Is this piece of news important or just trash, we wonder?
It’s vital for us to understand the identity of the person
transmitting the message to us.
Does the information come from a snake oil salesman, or some influencer, or conspiracy theory peddler; are we witnessing a deepfake or AI forgery?
Or does this information come from someone with an actual PhD or someone who’s studied this for decades?
Or from a reputable source that hasn’t been forged?
Is the person trustworthy or not, we want to know.
And if we can determine this with some certainty,
then we can find out whether what they’re saying has some truth to it,
“Who are you, really?
Maybe if we like the answer, then we’ll listen to what you have to say.”
A dose of skepticism is what we all need these days to survive.
(And so, the leaders asking John: “who are you?”
Is something we can relate to.)
Now back to John.
Just as John was called to bear witness to the light of Christ,
we too have been given the responsibility to reflect His light in the world.
Just as John prepared the hearts of the people for Jesus' arrival,
we are called to prepare the way for Christ in the lives of those around us.
John the Baptiser is a model of faith for us.
First of all, we should be humble.
I find it interesting that the two main characters in the Advent season are both very humble.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, demonstrates humility in her accepting her mission from the angel Gabriel:
”let it be with me according to your word” she says.
She understands her task is to prepare the way for her Son,
the Messiah, to come into the world.
John the Baptist is also humble,
and he tells the leaders that he is “not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals.”
Like John, we must recognize that we are not the light of the world,
but rather, we are called to bear witness to the true light of Christ.
Let us not seek to elevate ourselves, but instead, point others to Jesus.
Because a Christian life goal is to proclaim the truth:
It’s fascinating that God needs us humans for his cosmic plan.
We are part of God’s recipe for salvation.
That is the mystery of the incarnation,
the fact that God became human, and took on flesh,
that somehow we have a part to play as well,
in that we need to share the good news of the identity of Jesus.
For this we need to be clear about who we are as Christians, as little Christs, as followers of Jesus.
When our identity is located close to Jesus,
when we stick close in our self-understanding to the Word made Flesh, then our testimony is more believable.
When we, like John, point to Jesus,
the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,”
and warn others of the dangers of separation from God,
then we play an important role in God’s will for creation.
Our goal is to point to even the tiniest light,
in pitch-black environments and say: “behold the Lamb of God!”(Lewis)
We need to adjust our eyes to see light where there seems to be none (Lewis)! And then point to Jesus and say: look at him.
And the goal of this witness:
is so that everyone may believe in the light that is Jesus,
the Life force, the animating power of our lives (Atkinson) that darkness cannot extinguish.
As believers, we are called to proclaim the truth of the gospel
and the identity of Jesus as the Son of God.
Let us not shy away from sharing this life-changing message with others, with our friends and relatives.
Finally, like John, we are called to reflect the light:
We are not to be the light, but we are called to reflect the light of Christ
in a world of darkness.
This means living a life that aligns with His teachings and emulating His love, grace, and mercy to those around us.
Humans need light, and we take it for granted that light is immediately available as residents of a 21st century urban environment.
But this was not always the case,
Remember that electric light was such a technological breakthrough when it became available a little over a century ago.
A while back, Carey and I visited the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky,
the world’s longest known cave system.
When we had gotten to the midpoint of the tour,
the guide turned off all the lights.
I’ve never experienced such darkness,
it was quite oppressive and scary!
There was absolutely no light at all,
Normally if you go into a dark room,
your eyes will eventually adjust and you’ll start to see a bit,
but in absolute darkness, your eyes will never adjust,
because there is absolutely no light at all.
You cannot see your hand in front of your face.
Then after a minute in that cave, the guide struck a match.
What a difference that made!
It gave a sense of hope and relief.
A small glimmer of light made such a huge difference.
Our Advent Wreath is also a symbol of the light we are called to reflect,
to bring hope to the world which has lost it.
Amidst these short days and long nights of the year,
we gather week by week and light one more candle to watch for Messiah.
It may be bleak and dreary outside,
but we still have our four small candles
that proclaim that the darkness of death can’t extinguish Jesus’ light.
the act of intentionally reflecting the light of Christ isn’t easy.
It’s the job of Pastors for example to model this:
to point to Jesus and to talk about Christ’s light.
But as Lutherans who confess the Priesthood of all believers,
It really is also up to all of us.
Reflecting the light of Christ usually doesn’t happen through a sermon or an interrogation by religious leaders,
but it occurs in the small everyday interactions we have all the time.
Pointing to a small flicker of light (like a match in a dark cave)
we can observe and say:
God is here!
That’s sometimes all it takes.
As a community of St. Matthews, just by being here,
and opening our doors for our community hub,
is also a simple act of reflecting the light of Christ
to those who need space.
John the Baptist was a powerful witness to the light of Christ,
as he boldly declared the truth and prepared the way for Jesus' arrival.
Let us learn from his example and fulfill our role as witnesses to the light of Christ in our world today.
May we humble ourselves, proclaim the truth, prepare the way,
and reflect the light of Christ to those around us.
Sources: Working Preacher: Commentary on John 1: Karoline Lewis,
Working Preacher: Commentary on John 1: Timothy L. Adkins