John 1:6-8, 19-28 (CEB)
A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself was not the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.
This is John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?”
John confessed (he didn’t deny but confessed), “I’m not the Christ.”
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
John said, “I’m not.”
“Are you the prophet?”
John answered, “No.”
They asked, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
“I am a voice crying out in the wilderness,
Make the Lord’s path straight, just as the prophet Isaiah said.”
Those sent by the Pharisees asked, “Why do you baptize if you aren’t the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
John answered, “I baptize with water. Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize. He comes after me, but I’m not worthy to untie his sandal straps.” This encounter took place across the Jordan in Bethany where John was baptizing.
A word of God, for the people of God…Thanks be to God.
Third Weekend in Advent
December 16-17, 2017
“Witness to the Light”
John 1:6-8, 19-28
We move to the Gospel of John this week and hear another account of John the Baptist. As we heard last week from the Gospel of Mark, John was a unique-looking guy; wearing clothing made of camel’s hair, a leather belt around his waist and consuming a diet of locust and wild honey. But the Gospel of John gives us none of these details.
So, who was this man they called John the Baptist, who had come out from the wilderness and was creating such a ruckus?
Let’s find out together as we enter the Gospel of John.
(Read John 1:6-8, 19-28)
Our Gospel story says that John the Baptist was sent from God as a witness to testify to the light. This Light is the light of Christ. As we near the end of a year in which we have focused on Offering Christ as part of our four-year ministry plan of H.O.P.E., (Hope Slide) we have worked together to offer Christ and testify to the light of Christ in many ways.
The verse just before where our passage begins today says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” That is the message John the Baptist is trying to convey to those who are questioning him…he is trying to be a voice and a witness.
John’s story in this Gospel begins with Priests and other leaders being sent from Jerusalem to the banks of the Jordan River where John was baptizing. Their mission was to find out who he was.
The religious leaders were sure that he was just another one of those rabble-rousers who kept popping up all over, making grandiose claims to be the incarnation of Elijah or Moses or even the Messiah.
Yet, John startled his questioners with his direct, honest answers. “I am not the Christ,” he said. After the same answers were given when he was asked about being Elijah or Moses, the frustrated questioners asked, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John responded in the words of the prophet Isaiah saying, “I am a voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make the Lord’s path straight.’”
John makes it clear that he is only the messenger; he is not the message…he is a witness to the Light that came into the world as Jesus the Christ, but he is not himself the Light.
(Back to sermon title slide)
John tells his questioners that he is simply a voice to prepare the way for someone that is coming after him who they do not know, but who will be worth knowing. John says that the one coming after him is one who is so great, he is not even worthy to untie his shoelaces.
Instead, his mission was to simply testify to the Light…to offer Christ through his words and his actions. We too can be a voice preparing the way for others to know Christ. With our words and our actions, or our position or place in life, we can be a voice that testifies to the light of God’s love.
Or, perhaps because of our own experiences of knowing about darkness in our life and faith, we can testify to God’s light.
So, for those of us who have done our own time in the darkness and who have felt saved by the light, can we be witnesses to remind others that God yet comes; that God, through Christ is the light in the darkness of our lives and in our world?
We have the opportunity to bear witness to this Light. For even though there is no way around the darkness, many of us have learned that there is a way through it.
Other words from the prophet Isaiah remind us that, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.”
Lindsey Sterling is a violinist, dancer, performance artist and composer. She offers a witness to the light of Christ and a message of hope in the everyday rhythms of life through her violin and her words. I invite you to watch her testimony to the light (video).
As we enter the final week of the Advent season, we are still waiting for the coming Christ child. As with any type of waiting, we are longing and hoping for something better. The promise of Advent is that there is something better coming.
We must remind ourselves often that the present darkness is not all there is and is not the final destination on our journey of faith. And that’s the message of John the Baptist. His is a voice crying into our darkness, telling us that there is a coming Light.
John knew that he did not know everything about the one that was coming. He was waiting too. But as one writer has said, “To not know the exact shape of his hope, showed the depth of his hope.” John was waiting for something greater than his own efforts could deliver.
John did not know the complete shape of his hope, but he was the prophet of hope. He was a voice in the darkness, telling people not to give up hope, telling people that their longing was not just wishful thinking…that their longing to know God was an act of faith and a deep and abiding belief that God cares.
As people of faith, we are called to witness not only to the Light that is coming, but to the Light that is already present among us that we and others long to see. And sometimes, witnessing to the Light that is Christ is as simple as offering a smile or a kind word or a listening ear so that others see a glimpse of God with us.
One day early in the Advent season, a four-year-old girl went with her mother to set up the nativity set at church. As the woman took each piece out of the box she described the figurines to the little girl. There was Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. Then the angels and shepherds and animals came out of the box.
The little girl watched as her mother set all the figurines in their places on the altar table. When the mother left for a moment to turn on the single light above the altar that would shine down upon the holy scene, the little girl began rearranging the pieces. She collected all the figurines that were spread neatly across the table and arranged them all in a semi-circle near the baby Jesus.
With the light shining from above, the mother returned to find the little girl standing back to look at her work. When the mother asked about the semi-circle arrangement of the nativity pieces, the little girl simply said, “Everyone wants to see God.”
John the Baptist helps us see God by witnessing to the One that is the Light.
God in Jesus the Christ is moving among us. This is the good news of Advent. God yet comes and draws us into the Light so that we too may witness to that same Light.
May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.