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December 10, 2023

3rd Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-10

Psalm 126

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8, 19-28

 

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

 grace and peace to you

 from Jesus who is the messiah. Amen

 

The good news for today

 is that Jesus is the messiah

 and we are not.

 

 Isn’t that a relief?

 Yes we have roles to play

and gifts and calls from God,

 but we are not responsible for saving the world.

 

Sometimes we forget that

and it leads to impossible pressure and expectations,

it even gets in the way of who we actually are.

 Part of knowing who we are

 is knowing who we are not.

 

We have a prime example of this

 in John the Baptist this morning.

 He has been sent by God to testify to the light,

to prepare the way for Jesus

and he’s doing this by baptizing people,

 

 other gospels tell us that it is a baptism for the repentance of sins,

in John’s gospel,

 the baptizer tells those who ask

 that he baptizes so that Jesus may be revealed,

and indeed when John baptizes Jesus

 he sees the spirit descending like a dove

 and resting on Jesus,

and this is how John knows that Jesus is the one to point to (John 1:31-34),

and from then on John points his own followers to Jesus, indeed “The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ the two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”(John 1:35-37)

 

but we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves,

John is able to do this,

 to fulfill his role

because he is clear about who he is and who he is not.

 

John is attracting crowds

which brings him to the attention of the religious leaders

and they send some representatives out to talk to John

and the first thing they ask him is:

 “Who are you?”

 

and perhaps John hears the question behind the question,

 what they’re really asking is: are you the messiah?

because to the question Who are you?

 He answers: I am not the messiah.

 

 Neither is he Elijah, or the prophet,

Whose return the people are also waiting.

 Having established that he is none of these figures,

 they finally ask him “What do you say about yourself?”

 and only then

 does John answer in the positive.

 

 Establishing who he is not

 has freed John to be who he is:

the one sent to prepare the way,

 the voice calling out in the wilderness,

and anything he does,

 including baptizing

 is in service of this role and identity. 

 

But how does John know who he is?

 Sometimes it’s much easier to say what we are not

than to come up with what we are.

 

 John knows who he is

because he is grounded in the stories of scripture and his life.

It’s the gospel writer Luke

that gives us John’s origin story as it were,

 

 how his father Zechariah was a priest

and one time when he went into the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense

 an angel of the Lord appeared to him

 and told him how his wife would give birth to a son

who they would name John

and how he would prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.

 

 Of course Zechariah who along with Elizabeth is getting on in years

wonders how this will happen

 and due to his disbelief

the angel strikes him mute until the baby is born

 and Zechariah confirms that he is to be named John.

 

In the meantime Mary receives her own angelic visit

 and divine baby announcement

 and the angel mentions to her that Elizabeth is also divinely expecting,

 and when Mary goes to visit Elizabeth

 John leaps for joy in utero at the sound of Mary’s greeting.

 

It’s quite a story,

 and you better believe John heard that story

over and over again growing up,

and to make sense of it

 he turns to scripture, to the prophets,

and in Isaiah he finds a way to interpret his life through scripture,

specifically the prophet proclaiming: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”

 If God has worked this way in the past

 it is conceivable that God will act this way again or similarly.

 Especially important about this

is the prophets insistence that God is the one who will act,

the prophet is merely the announcer. 

 

So having established who he is not

and being rooted in the stories of his life and scripture,

 John is able to answer the religious leaders’ question

in a way they will understand, through scripture,

 they’ve asked him if he’s the messiah, Elijah, or a prophet

and he says I’m none of those people

 but I do have a mission from God:

 “I am the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.”

 

Which they seem to accept

 but then they ask:

‘If you’re none of these people, why are you baptizing?’

and here John is able to fulfill his role

and points to the one who is coming after him,

 who he is not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal. 

 

John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus,

 each Advent we sing “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry, announces that the Lord is nigh; awake and harken, for he brings glad tidings of the King of Kings”

this is who he is

 and one of the ways he is able to fulfill his role

 is by knowing who he is and who he is not

 

 and perhaps one of the ways the we can best prepare for the coming of the Lord

is to follow the example of John

by knowing who we are and who we are not

and seeking to understand what that means for our own lives in God.

 

 How do we do this?

 Well, like John, we can start with who we are not,

we are not the messiah,

it is not up to us to save the Church,

 or congregation or even that one person

who could use a whole lot of Jesus,

 that is God’s job,

 

but we do have a role to play,

and to figure this out

 we turn to the stories of our lives

 and the stories of scripture,

 

 and one of the most important stories we tell

 is the story of how we have been baptized,

the story that says whatever else the world might say about us,

God has said we are children of God,

 this is who we are,

 

 and then we find in scripture

 some things that children of God are to do like:

 “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, giving thanks.”

 

and then we turn to hold the stories of our individual lives

 alongside the stories of scripture

 and we might find that we’re like Martha

 who serves God by taking care of the small but important things in life,

or that we’re like David who sang and played music for the glory of God,

or we might see how we might be like Jonah,

 a reluctant prophet but a prophet none the less,

 

and all of this comes together

so that when someone comes to us and asks:

Who are you?

 We are prepared to say,

 I am not the messiah

but I am a child of God,

 

and when they ask:

 Why are you doing what you’re doing?

Like John we will be able to fulfill the role to which God has called us

and point to Jesus,

who is the messiah. Amen

 

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