Advent 3B (12/14/2008)

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." 22 Then 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, 27 the 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.

 "If you never know where you are going, you can never get lost." I had a friend who used to live by that motto. His contention was that life is all about the journey, not the destination. He wouldn't allow goals and objectives to interfere with his ability to enjoy the moment.

That attitude may work for a time, but eventually we realize that the opposite is true. Anyone who has any hope - any direction - any ambition in life - realizes that, "If you never know where you are going, you will never get there."

These days we are cognizant of how important it is to understand one's purpose in life. Best-selling author and Baptist Minister Rick Warren is aware of that. In 1995 he published the widely-read book, "The Purpose Driven Church." He followed that up with the blockbuster, "The Purpose Driven Life" in 2002. Now this year, he is offering us "The Purpose of Christmas." He has developed a regular cottage industry around his belief that those who are clear about their purpose, are much more likely to live with meaning and satisfaction - and congregations that are clear about their purpose, are similarly more vital and more productive.

A sense of purpose, and the ability to focus on it, can provide meaning and satisfaction in life. In this morning's Gospel lesson (a story that reminds us of Matthew 16:13-20, when Jesus held a similar conversation with his own followers), we become aware that St. John, the Baptizer, knew that. His listeners and followers may not have fully understood who he was. In this weekend's text we discover that many people were wondering just what St. John was all about. Some suspected that he was the Messiah. Others thought of him as Elijah, returned to life. Others yet wondered if he might be "The Prophet."

But John was clear about who he was, and clear with his listeners. "I am not the Messiah!" he insisted. Neither would he admit to being Elijah or The Prophet. John knew where he was going, even if the people of his day weren't exactly certain about it. He understood himself as a witness to the light, sent by God so that all might believe.

Because he was clear about his role, and because he was determined to be faithful to God in all things, John's ministry of preaching and teaching and baptizing people was a powerful one. His listeners came to understand the serious nature of their sin. They were moved to ask God for forgiveness. They repented of their past, and were determined to walk in a new direction. It was life changing for many of them.

But John continued to insist that he was not "The One." His only job was to make the people ready for the Messiah who was coming, and once the Messiah was on the scene, John's job was to get out of the way. As John himself said later (in St. John's 3rd chapter): "He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease."

John came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was an important figure in first century religious life. He played a key role in helping the people of his day get ready for what they were about to experience in Jesus. He helped them to see their sin. He led them to repentance. He raised up in them an awareness of their need for a Savior. And when Jesus did come, many of them were more open to receiving him because of the ministry of St. John, the Baptizer.

John was an important part of the story of Jesus, and he continues to be an important model for us today. We, too, are called to be witnesses to the light. We, too, are to help others come to believe in Jesus. We, too, are "make straight the way of the Lord" in the lives of those we know.

We may not dress in camel's hair with a leather belt, or eat wild honey and locusts for our meals. But we do have this in common with John: we have all be called by God to be witnesses to the light, in the darkness of this world. Witnesses to the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ. Witnesses to what God is doing in and through the church. Witnesses to what it means that our God is a God of love and compassion; a God of power and might.

In John the Baptist, we have a wonderful example of a man who knew what he was all about, who was strong in his sense of call from God, and who was passionate and determined in sharing with is listeners the Good News that is Jesus Christ. May we all grow to where we live with that same faithful passion and determination!


David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  • Where did John's ministry take place?
  • What does that say about his listeners?
  • What word of good news was he determined to share?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  • Who has helped me to see the light that is Christ?
  • How do I understand what Christ means to me?
  • Who can I help to meet Christ, and come to faith?