Advent 3B (12/11/2011)

Lessons:Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 Psalm 126 or St. Luke 1:46b-55 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 St. John 1:6-8, 19-28

Prayer of the Day: Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the words of your prophets, that, anointed by your Spirit, we may testify to your light; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

St. John 1:6-8, 19-28, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

He Came as a Witness, to Testify to the Light

Light is one of my favorite images. I can stare forever at a fireplace or a campfire. I love the sight of a lonely light, set high on a hill, late at night. And the glow of a candle, shining in a darkened sanctuary, reminds me of the presence of God, even in the midst of our darkest times.

Jonah's Baptism
Jonah's Baptism at Saint Peter Lutheran Church

In the Lutheran church, when someone is baptized, fire is taken from the Paschal Candle, and the baptized is given a lit candle as these words from the Sermon on the Mount are spoken: “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father in heaven.”

Two Sundays ago, following his baptism, Jonah was mesmerized by the light of the Paschal Candle. We prayed that his sight might always be set on the presence of God in his life.

The amazing thing about light is that it always beats back the darkness. There is never a moment of doubt about that. When I stand in a bright room and open the door to a dark closet, it never occurs to me that the darkness might cast a shadow out into the room. It is always the case that light will invade the darkness of the closet.

St. John the Evangelist, the author of the fourth Gospel, announces the arrival of St. John the Baptist with these words: “He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” We call him the Baptist, but he is much more than that. He is also an agent of light. He is one who sheds light on the presence of Christ in this world, and who sheds light on the reality of this world’s brokenness.

Shedding light isn’t always easy duty. It got John killed. He refused to ignore, as so many others were willing to do, that Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, had committed sin by divorcing his wife Phasaelis, and marrying Herodias (who, strangely enough, was both the wife of his half-brother Herod and the daughter of his half-brother Aristobulus). John the Baptist shed light on Herod’s sinfulness, spoke out against this marriage, and Herodias eventually returned the favor by having him beheaded.

Yet John also spoke of another kind of light. He, with the Fourth Evangelist, understood that Jesus is, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, [and] was coming into the world.” He staked his very life on the belief that Jesus is a light that no power of darkness can defeat. He calls us to place our trust in that belief as well.

This Advent, may we respond to his words, and entrust our lives to the One whom God has given to us, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why was John willing to risk his life to speak the truth about Herod Antipas?
  2. What does it mean to think of Jesus as a light, shining into the darkness of the world?
  3. Is his light a light of truth (revealing sin) or a light of hope (revealing the way forward)?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What hard truth is God calling me to speak?
  2. How does my faith in Christ illuminate my life’s journey?
  3. Who might I help to see the light?