3rd Sunday in Advent
December 14, 2014
John 1:6-8, 19-28
You gotta love those old guys in the 4th Century who decided what the Church would use as readings from Scripture for all of us. I hear you saying, “Didn’t we just talk about John the Baptizer last week?” Why are we still talking about him?” It’s just part of being a church that uses this ancient pattern to be sure we cover the whole Bible when we talk about how God is at work in our history and our world.
But there are differences between these two stories about John. Mark makes it clear that John the Baptizer is Elijah, the link to the Hebrew Bible. Mark wants us to see that Jesus is the One who was prophesied, and that this is the end of the age of anticipation of our redemption, and Jesus as the beginning of the time when God comes with power to bring in the new age in which God conquers the evil forces of the world forever, setting us free to heal the world, person by person.
In John’s Gospel, John is the witness to the fact that God is already here in the presence of Jesus. Those pictures you see of John pointing to Jesus is the portrait of John from this Sunday’s reading in the fourth Gospel. Kind of a fine point, I hear you say, so what’s the big difference and why should I care?
John deliberately points away from himself in the relentless questioning of the authorities, and toward the one who is standing unknown among them at the very moment they are quizzing him. They want to put him in a category they know and understand because his preaching and teaching is so powerful. But John refuses to be anything but a witness, a person whose testimony sheds light on something that otherwise might not be recognized.
The Greek word for John’s role is martyria, witness. We are used to thinking of martyrs as those people who died for their faith. And that is true. The word martyr comes from the same Greek word, and martyrs were people who refused to back down from their witness to the truth they had found in trusting Jesus. They were willing to die for that witness. It is our faith, too. It is in Jesus that God finally says yes to us fully. It is in Jesus that God shows us what acceptance and complete love look like. We are saved from our inability to love God completely and love our neighbors as ourselves by the overwhelming love of God to heal our self-centered lives and open our eyes to a different future. We can love because we have been loved. We can forgive because we have been forgiven. We can walk with those who suffer because God has walked with us in our own suffering. We can feed and heal and give because our hearts have been fed and healed and blessed by God in Jesus.
In John’s Gospel, John is the Witness, not the Baptizer, a very different picture than the shaggy firebrand of Mark who insists on repentance to be ready for Jesus. In John’s Gospel, John is much more like we are, called to witness, called to testify to the difference that has happened already by Jesus’ entry into our world.
So I ask you: what is your witness? What is your testimony? The fact that you are here this morning means that somewhere in your life, something about the new life available to you through Jesus has made a difference. Somewhere, somehow, you felt an invitation to meet God, and a relationship. We as a community of faith have witnessed to God’s love in the world through such things as Prineville Music Theater Camp, and our participation in Blue Christmas – witness you have seen in the paper in the last two weeks. Though you’ve seen my picture, I am you in the community because you have commissioned me to be there as your representative to making this a place where we care for people. Our quilts are on the beds at Redemption House and about to be included in gift boxes at the Holiday Partnership. But what about you personally? What would you say as your testimony if someone asked you why you go to church, or what difference it makes in your life to know about Jesus?
That is John’s challenge to us this morning, so I’ll give you a few minutes to think about what you’d say – one or two sentences that tells how coming to church or knowing about Jesus makes a difference in your li. Then I’m going to ask you to turn to the person next to you and tell them, to tell each other what difference the love of Jesus makes for you. I’ll give you two minutes to think and then three minutes to share. Time starts now…..
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have,” says Peter in his 1st letter. Our witness, our testimony to the change of our own hearts is often the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to enter in. It’s so easy for us to think about those people in the Bible as being some special breed, able to do things that are no longer possible for ordinary people like you and me. But it’s not true. John is so clear: “It’s not about me! It’s about the presence of God among us right now. That’s where the real hope is!” That’s our story too. May you have the courage to tell it. Amen