Third Sunday in Advent
John the Witness
John 1 6-8 19-28 1 Thess 5 16-24 Isaiah 61 1-4 8-11
If last week in Mark’s gospel, we met the camel hair wearing, locust and honey eating John the Baptist, this week we do a 180 degree turn and meet a whole different John.
The John of John's Gospel is never called the Baptist. Rather, this is John the Witness. While he is described as doing some general baptizing here and there, a careful read of John's story of Jesus' baptism reveals that John does not baptize Jesus. His primary role is not as one who baptizes but one who testifies to the light coming into the world. God is about to order a new creation, a new presence of light in the world but it necessitates a human to point to its presence, otherwise, human as we are, we might not see it. That human is John. He has been about his work – calling people to repent and preparing the way for Jesus.
So at last, after weeks of foreboding, of warnings that the coming of the Lord is not something to take lightly or to meet with unprepared; now at last the excitement begins to mount.
John knows exactly what he is and what he is not. He knows that he is a necessary part of God's unfolding plan, the first actor on the stage, the narrator who sets the scene and lets us know what is to come. There is barely suppressed excitement in his voice as he scans the crowd, waiting for the face that he knows - his cousin Jesus. John - and only he - will recognize Jesus for who he is. He does not mind that his work will be eclipsed. He understands the job of the herald, both its importance and that it is necessarily only a temporary job. He has no hesitation in applying the words of scripture to himself. He knows that the prophets foretold his coming, and longed to see what he is about to see. John is hugely content to be where he is and what he is. Any part in God's coming is vital.
As soon as John opens his mouth, he brings with him the whole cloud of prophetic witness to what God has been preparing for so long. The Light of the world. Everything tends to look a little different in the light. All you have to do to realize this is to try polishing your car a little too late in the day - before you can finish buffing all that white haze off. Next morning you can see all the bits you have missed. ‘White patches waving at you’. Everything tends to look a little different in the light.
Light is not always a welcome visitor into our lives. This is especially true when we want to sleep.
The light wakes us up;
The light reminds us that we have things to do.
The light reminds us that time is drawing near.
When the light came into the world in the manger at Bethlehem, the world rejected it. Throwing the curtains over the windows of their hearts. The world preferred the darkness. Why? Why would a people living in darkness want to remain in the dark? Quite simply, because it is easier to stay in the dark than to have to face the light. There are all sorts of things we don’t want to look at in the light of day. The world wants just enough light so that they aren’t scared of the shadows in the room at night. The world wants just enough light so that the danger of stubbing one’s toe is taken away. But spare us the light that makes us squint and blink, and shows up all the hidden dirt. Everything looks a little too different in the light.
As the readings of the past few weeks have indicated not everyone will be pleased to see God, or thrilled by what he has prepared for the world.
That reading from Isaiah – did it make the hairs on your neck stand on end – I always want to shout YES whenever I hear that reading, it is full of joy. It is a joy that John would have recognized and identified with, because it is the joy of the one whose good news is for others.
It is such a privilege if we have good news to tell someone rather than bad news which gets shared so readily. The joy for the anointed one will be in seeing the faces of the oppressed, the captive, and the bereaved as they hear the good news he brings. But even this, enormous as it is, is secondary. The real, uncontainable, wild excitement comes in Isaiah 61.10 and 11. The good news that the anointed one brings is the news that, at last, the earth is to see the full nature and glory of God. Righteousness, salvation, justice and praise spring up all over the earth because now, finally, we see what God is like. Jesus is God with skin on.
But did that reading from Thessalonians sound a little tame after Isaiah? It shouldn't. The Thessalonians are the early church rejoicing in all that Jesus had done for them. Writing to them Paul is perfectly clear that joy should be the natural condition of Christians, quite independent of our outward circumstances. Joy is the gift of the unquenchable Holy Spirit, whose job it is to keep us Christians connected to the life of God, offered in Jesus Christ. It is the same bubbling spring of excitement found in John the Baptist and in Isaiah, the welling joy of those who have seen the nature of God, and the unfolding of his work. We only have to look at the wonderful sunset, snowdrops breaking through the snow, a new born baby I could go on, things that make you glad to be alive are the wonder and marvel of a creator God.
This joy is not dependent upon prosperity, health, or luck but like most of God's gifts, it has a purpose. In joy, we turn to the world God has made, and we should become his heralds. Like John the Baptist, we too should shout about the coming of Christ, who will bring joy to those who have never experienced it before in the whole of their lives. We too should shout about the faithfulness of God, creator, redeemer and bringer of joy. Now all that shouting really should get us into the Christmas Spirit.
Finally we return to the Light – have you ever been deep within a cave system when at the opportune time, the lights are turned out. Of course, this is not just to show you how dark it is. We all know that. Rather, it is a reminder of the fact that without light, even the smallest speck of light, our eyes will never adjust to the darkness. We could be down in that cave five minutes, five hours, or five years and still never see our hands in front of our faces. But if we had some light even the smallest flicker of light from a match would eventually make our eyes adjust and we would be able to see.
So what does it mean to testify to the light?
Do we think of ourselves as witnesses to the light which shines in the darkness? In this time of advent and anticipation, we prepare our welcome for the Word made flesh, our welcome for Jesus this Christmas?
John the Witness reminds us of the importance of pointing to even the tiniest light and saying "Look, behold, the Lamb of God!" Maybe, preparation means simply adjusting our eyes to see light when there seems to be none. God calls us to be witnesses like John who point to Jesus and say "Look!" so that others might know God's love and peace. Perhaps you are thinking how can I point to Jesus –when he is not here? Oh, but He is, if you want to find Jesus just look around you this morning!