3rd Sunday of Advent
Reading: John 1:6-8,19-28
Last week I mentioned how we wait and ask, ‘What name shall our name be?’ Here this morning we find john the Baptist facing the same question, as religious leaders grill him about who he is. Priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem to do the detective work, not unlike some of the mysteries we watch on TV or at the cinema today. We need people to seek out the witnesses, to ask the questions, to establish the facts. I don’t know what your favourite genre is when it comes to reading or viewing but I enjoy the thriller, the suspense of the blow by blow account as truth is unravelled and revealed. We watch and listen as testimonies are given and character witnesses come forward but so too do the character assassins. I like nothing better than trying to work my way through the clues, the obvious as well as the more nuanced ones. It all adds up, for me anyway, to a climax of discovering whether you managed to get the correct result or where you miles off with who you thought to be the guilty and innocent ones. Let’s unpick our reading as if it was one of those thriller mystery stories. Those first two verses, 6 & 8 give us the grounding for all that follows ‘There came a man who was sent from God, his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.’ Let’s move then to what follows with John’s testimony. We know from the other gospel accounts that John baptised many people and still others went out to hear him preach. The Jewish leaders had to find out for themselves what all of this was about. John was aware that these leaders believed he himself thought he might be the Christ even though John had been abundantly clear on that issue, he was not. You might say they were clutching at straws. They were fumbling about in the dark. John has described himself as a witness to the light. The entire Jewish people were awaiting their Messiah. They were looking forward to the time when their nation would be set free from this Roman oppression. Their dream was for the kingdom of Israel to be re-established.
John makes it clear from the outset he is not the Christ. You can put a torch or any light under a cover but the light will still be there. Light has no shape or form, used in a confined or open space light throws off a different shape. You can shine the torch onto your hand but you can’t hold light in your hand. Light is something that makes vision possible. John’s gospel mentions light many times. Saying that light puts chaos to flight, light shows things as they really are and light guides or leads the way. The questioning begins. ‘Are you Elijah?’ one of the great prophets from their history. Elijah did not die but was carried up to heaven in a chariot. Malachi prophesied that Elijah would return before the great and dreadful day of the Lord. The understanding then was quite natural to assume he would return before the Messiah and John was telling the people to prepare for that very Messiah. When John says he is not Elijah they turn their attentions elsewhere. This time they go all the way back to Moses and the book of Deuteronomy when Moses says a prophet like himself would rise up from within their people. A prophet who the Jews thought to be different than Elijah or the Messiah. After denying this too the priests and Levites appear to have run out of options. ‘who are you? Give us an answer that we can take back.’ In amongst those who had been sent where Pharisees, very strict among their people. They wanted an answer but they also wanted an explanation over and above. Where did John’s authority come from to be baptising people? Jews baptised gentiles who wanted to come into their fold but they believed that Jews did not need to be baptised. John, once again, makes everything very clear as too why he is there. He is a but a messenger sent ahead. He is one sent with the words, prepare the way, for the one who follows him has all authority. I wonder if we sometimes look at things the wrong way round. When we get so consumed with what we do rather than who we are. There are always things to be done in life as in church. Agendas drawn up for meetings. Planning and strategies thought through. Proper procedures to be followed are clarified and all of this so that we know what we are doing. What we do. How about we alter our approach? This morning we have seen John questioned. They already know what he does and are more interested in who he is. When we look to the life of Jesus we see much the same thing. From the prophets and the beginning of gospels we are told. He will be called Immanuel; God is with you. He will be the light of the world. He will be the word made flesh. He will be the Messiah. We get to know who he is and then what he does. He heals the sick and frees the prisoners. Remember those who questioned Jesus; the disciples of John asked, ‘are you the one who is to come?’ The Pharisees continually questioned Jesus on things such as healing on the Sabbath and forgiving people of their sin. Pilate asked him, ‘are you the king of the Jews?’ He could find nothing in what Jesus had done that would bring about a death sentence, but who he was did pose the Romans and the Jewish authorities a problem. Maybe we need to go back and the ask the question of ourselves, ‘who are we?’ then our witness for Christ may become stronger. Those first two verses, 6 & 8 ‘There came a man who was sent from God, his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.’