ADVENT 3, B
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
John 1:6-8, 19-28
For some reason the lectionary this week jumps from Mark to John. Now Mark is the least wordy of the Gospels, and since Mark gives us no birth stories, it’s not surprising that we read Luke on Christmas, but why we read John this week is not so clear.
For one thing, John the Baptist, as we know him from the Synoptic Gospels – meaning Matthew, Mark, and Luke – is what? A prophet, a baptizer, one who calls for repentence. One of his major jobs is to baptize Jesus. But in the Gospel of John this John has a different roll. He comes as a witness, sent by God, to bear witness to the Word and to point to the light. This means his primary vocation is to bear witness to Jesus, to point him out to others, to call their attention to him.
Since John’s Gospel is the Gospel of signs, it makes some sense that John the Baptist becomes John the signpost. And it also carries on this Gospel’s use of light and dark as metaphors for good and evil. John came to testify to the light.
It’s clear in this reading that John’s job is to point to Jesus, and it’s clear in the Gospels, taken together, that Jesus always points to God. I see the central purpose of Jesus’s life as modeling the nature of God, so that we might know God more clearly than had been possible in the past.
As I mentioned last week, Advent is a time when we not only prepare for the coming of the light into the world, but also a time to consider how we are supposed to live while we wait for that to happen. That is, not just while we wait for Christmas, but while we wait for the Kingdom of God to become realized in this world. Are we to model our lives after John or after Jesus? I suspect the author of John’s Gospel would say John. I would say, why not both?
In the story, John literally points to Jesus. Jesus figuratively points to God during his ministry by modeling God-like behavior. Why can’t we also do both?
Now the good news, for a church full of Episcopalians, is this: we can do both without having to rise in church or on a street corner to testify, to give witness statements, or any other verbal forms of self-disclosure. Like John, we can testify by pointing to the light in our daily lives. We can share that discovery with others in so many quiet ways.
We can model John by looking for and pointing out the pinpoints of light that many people overlook. Dark news is what we hear most often, but there are lights all around us if we but have the eyes to see. Make these the topics of conversation and ignore the bad news.
I find these gloomy days of early winter and dwindling daylight very hard to bear. It’s easy to be grumpy and pessimistic. That’s about where I was one afternoon last week. As the dusk was getting deeper I suddenly saw a fox trot up the stairs to our deck, dash across it and run down the stairs on the other side. Then he ran across the yard and disappeared. About the time I was wondering if it had really been a fox, he appeared again, coming up the same stairs again but taking off in the opposite direction. This sighting changed my attitude. It was exactly like a beam of light in the darkness. And it reminded me of the glories of creation and how we are all related because of it.
And then sometime in this last week I saw this great picture of a Santa, laying across his big chair with his head lolling over the arm, sound asleep, with a tiny baby sleeping on his stomach. What an image to cheer the heart.
And my favorite one over the past year – a picture someone posted on Facebook and I reposted, which I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye. There a very large portrait, hung on a wall, of Maria Montessorri dancing with great joy and grand abandon. In front of the portrait with her back to the camera is a little girl doing the same dance. She reminded me of a granddaughter at that age and also looked very much like our own liturgical dancer her at Holy Trinity.
Your assignment for this week is to stay alert and look for the things that bring light to your lives. A former priest friend of mine used to call these God-sightings, but for Advent let’s just think of them as glimmers of light in this darkening world, and promises of the great light to come. And when you see them, tell someone. That’s how we can model John’s witness.
We can also model our lives on Jesus by trying to live by the same guidelines as he did. That means that we try to love God first and love our neighbors as ourselves. No, we won’t succeed all the time, but that’s no excuse for not continuing to try. Keep in mind the old joke:
“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”
“Practice, practice, practice!”
It’s that same for Christians.
“How do you get to the Kingdom of God”
“Practice, practice, practice!”
Sometime around 200 AD Tertullian reported that the Romans would exclaim about the Christians, “See how they love one another!” Some think that is why the church grew and expanded so quickly in the ancient world.
More good news for Episcopalians: To testify to the light, to point to God, to love God and to love one another can be done without words. It does require action, supported by study, prayer, worship and/or other forms of spiritual practice (practice, practice!). These help us stay on track and help us keep our actions in line with our Christian principles. They remind us of who we are (God’s children) and how we are to treat one another (as family).
This is how we live as we wait for the coming of the Kingdom. And each of us can become a point of light in other people’s lives.
Remember the song? This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine! AMEN