Sermon, Advent 3B, Sunday December 17, 2017.
John 1:6-8, 19-28
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders[a] in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’
21 They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’
He said, ‘I am not.’
‘Are you the Prophet?’
He answered, ‘No.’
22 Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’[b]
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, ‘Why then do you baptise if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’
26 ‘I baptise with[c] water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.
School’s out and the Christmas preps are now getting into full swing. I am not sure what Christmas you have in store – big family one with all the big food from which it will take some time to recover! or a light travelling one, or something in between?
Before it all gets very “Christmassy” can we remember these pretty normal shepherds who were amazed at what God was up to that night out in the paddock, and can we remember that man John the Baptizer, of whom we just heard. They will help us keep to the heart of Christmas.
Those shepherds went with the message they were given and got to that moment of all moments in that cow shed. They heard, and they did, and they marvelled at what God was doing in this baby, and they were changed people. They began to get that question we have been asking answered – What child is this? God’s child, Peace child, star child God with everyone…
As for John the Baptist, John the Apostle says that John the Baptist, ”…did not fail to confess”. John the Baptist did not fail to make the good confession that he was NOT the Messiah and that there was One coming that IS the Messiah.
Seems to me that between that fiery man down by the river and those shepherds in the paddock and at the shed, God is calling us to listen to the messengers he sends follow the messengers’ lead and see what and who this promises child really is (like the Shepherds), and confess that this Child is the “bee’s knees” for life (as John never wavered from doing)!
Listen, follow and confess – that is our calling at Christmas.
This is not easy! It is hard to hear the angels’ calling now. It is hard to find the Saviour revealing, and it is hard to confess the good news of forgiveness in Jesus when Jesus has been replaced in the Christmas story.
Once I danced with this devil more than I ever had. Once I truly entered into this commercial un-gospel version of Christmas in a way that I had never had done to that point. It was all part of the effort to truly connect with the local community in which we were called to plant a new Lutheran congregation. One year I put my hand up to be Santa Claus at a large community event run by the local community.
I sat and heard hundreds of Christmas wishes from children, encouraged by their parents. I will never do that again. I felt like I was selling out on Jesus because his grand gift of forgiveness, life and unending love and acceptance for underserving broken human beings did not rate a mention at all – not from the kids and not from their parents and not from anyone else involved with the program. I knew in theory that this would be the case, but this was living it; living this quite empty, lifeless, temporary “things driven’ thing that we seem to place our hope in. It was confronting to me as a person who knows the deep forgiveness and high hopes only Jesus gives.
Plus, I could not imagine these shepherds or that baptising man, John doing this!
At Christmas these shepherds with a dodgy reputation in their day and this fiery prophet, John, help me get to the heart of Christmas. John especially seems to get us above the musak at Aldi, the tinsel over the manger and the lights in our streets. He cuts through all of that with his fiery prophetic call to get real with a God who is active and present, and do something about that’ to repent of our distraction and indifference to him and his call and receive his forgiveness. As we do, we will be ready to receive what God is revealing, what God is doing, how God is appearing in your life at this time in this event we now call Christmas.
John makes Christmas real for me. He is so NOT like our human version of Christmas.
How so? Well, people respond in great numbers to his call. One gospel writer says that
“The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Mark 1:5).
And in this kind of heady atmosphere, when it would have been so easy for John to change his message ever so slightly, to bring some good things his way for his own ego and his own purposes, he did not. John did not fail to confess that he was NOT the One coming but there was ANOTHER appearing that was the real deal.
Now that is faithfulness to a calling. John’s ministry was the height of “success”, as we would see it. He lives the long childhood of preparation like a child prodigy – al la Tiger Woods. He lives where few dare to live and eat what few can – Bear Grylls. He therefore puts himself outside the societal pressure and expectation and is not beholden to anyone – Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Theresa,…..
Like Forest Gump, “who just felt like running”, John would have had publishers, TV stations and movie makers after him trying to sign him up and wrote books, leadership videos and movies about “leadership in the wilderness” and “desert diets made easy” and “The Baptiser”!
But John is faithful to his calling from the Lord. He does God’s Word. He is a living book – or a living witness to the living book. He is Elijah. He is Isaiah. He is the Prophets in a person. He is a living breathing witness to Jesus the coming Saviour of all people. John does not waver from his call and his task. Neither should we this Christmas.
Friend, would you dare to pray for the Spirit’s steel this Christmas to “make a straight pathway to the Messiah for people” in your zone?
I am not talking about violent rebellion here. I am not calling anyone to go into The CoOP and throw down the Christmas trees and stomp on all the Christmas decorations! I know the Lord is calling us to do what he always asks us to do – listen to him, follow his word and bear witness in words and actions of Jesus’ self-giving love and forgiveness; call people to focus on him – make a straight way for him in their Christmas and in their heart.
As we do a “John the Baptist” and point people to the real Jesus of Christmas we are also being faithful like John and those shepherds too.
Let’s follow his lead and not fail to make a straight way for people to the real Jesus of Christmas – the God incarnate, the humble God working with lowly shepherd class people, the Shepherd God coming to seek and save, the dying God bleeding for the world, the angelic God sounding the trumpet of victory over trouble and wrong and hope for the future.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1Thessalonians 5:23