Light in the Darkness Message for the Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 13.20 Based on John 1. 6-8, 19-28
So, here we are in our third Sunday of our new church year, the year that I told you that most of our gospel readings would come from Mark’s gospel, and already we’re deviating from that. Our weekly Sunday scriptures come from the Revised Common Lectionary. That’s a 3 year cycle of scriptures used by most main-line denominations, United, Lutheran, Presbyterian, RC and some Baptists so that multiple Christian denominations across North America are all hearing and praying from the same scriptures each Sunday. This is the second year in the cycle, Year B. And today’s gospel scripture is from John. John’s gospel is unlike the other 3 gospels, the writer of John really doesn’t make any attempt to present Jesus’ life from a historical perspective; his presentation is definitely more theological. And this is evident in John’s presentation of John the Baptist.
Now, last week we heard the writer of Mark’s gospel present John the Baptizer as a proclaimer; proclaiming people needed to repent of their sins and be baptized, proclaiming that there was one who was more powerful than him was yet to come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Mark’s John the Baptist was dressed in camel’s hair clothing and a belt around his waist,living in the desert eating locusts and wild honey. Why is John depicted thus by Mark? During those times, it was not uncommon for prophets to go out to the quiet of the desert and live off the land to listen the word of God, kind of like an extreme retreat, you could say. But it’s the physical description of John the Baptist that Mark uses to call to mind the image of another of the great prophets, Elijah. 2Kings 1.8: “Elijah was a hairy man with a leather belt around his waist.” Remember Elijah? He brought the people of Israel in the earlier times, back from worship of the god Baal-zebub to the one true God. Mark is evoking the image of Elijah to his reader. It’s like Mark is telling them: Listen to this man, this John the Baptizer; he has a message as important as the one Elijah brought you.
The writer of John’s gospel presents John the Baptist’s role not as just as a proclaimer or baptizer, although he of course does both of these things. Here’s a bit of interesting biblical trivia: John’s Gospel doesn’t even say that John ever baptized Jesus! In this gospel, John the Baptist’s primary role in relation to Jesus is as a witness and testifier of Jesus’ origin — that Jesus was from God, in fact that Jesus was God. John’s gospel opens by introducing Jesus as the Word of God, through whom all things came into being, the life that was the light of all people…. the light that shines in the darkness, the light that darkness cannot extinguish. (1:1-5 paraphrase) And then, John, the one whom we call the Baptist is introduced: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” To witness and testify means to observe, watch and talk about what’s been seen and give evidence of one’s experiences of it. So, through John the Baptist’s witness, through his experience of what he calls ‘the Light’, others too can believe in that light, the light that is Jesus the Christ. So for this gospel’s purpose, we could almost re-name John the Baptist to John the Witness.
Witness and testify, that was his purpose in John’s gospel: to be present with Jesus, to observe what was happening, what was revealed to him, how he understood the importance of this special man and share that with others. And that was precisely what he did. But the Jewish authorities were confused by John. It helps to understand that during these times, the Jewish people were looking for a Messiah, someone to save them from the oppression of living under the Roman regime. And then John comes on the scene, preaching an unusual message. Who was this guy anyway? Was he the Messiah, or the prophet Elijah returned to them? Perhaps it was the strange way he was dressed. And, ancient Jewish tradition said that Elijah would return before the Messiah came. Recall that the ancient scriptures tell us that Elijah did not die, he ascended directly to heaven.
When confronted by the Jewish authorities, John explains himself by quoting Isaiah, he was the voice of the one crying out of the wilderness. Then John tells them what he is not the Messiah, he is there to witness and testify to the light of the world.
What does that mean — Jesus is the light, the light that cannot be overcome with darkness? Have you ever been in a place that’s so dark that you literally can’t see your hands in front of your face? Total blackness, you have no sense of space, or surroundings, it’s disorienting and confusing, you lose your senses, especially if it’s quiet. Even after your eyes have adjusted to the dark, still there’s nothingness, blackness? What do we do? We grope around in the dark, eyes looking every where, straining for light anywhere. I recall a story one pastor shared at a ministerial meeting a few years ago, of a time when he went with a group of other teenage boys on an excursion deep in the caves beneath some mountains. There were lights and railings along the pathway down to the caves. When they reached the first cave the guide told the group that the lights would be turned off to give them the experience of total blackness. The guide warned them all to hang onto the railings, because if they didn’t, they would actually fall over in the absolute dark. He said they were teens, and teens know everything, they were too cool to fall over just because it was dark. And guess what, the lights went off and everyone of them fell to the ground, totally disoriented!
It occurred to me that life is like that sometimes. Sad things happen, evil things happen, difficult and distressing things happen and when we get too many of them at once, or too much at once, we feel like we’re snowed under. And we can feel enveloped in darkness, disoriented, off kilter, and we grope around in the dark, directionless, unsure where to go. Or life has piled so much stuff up around us that it just gets darker and darker, and we’re in a dark place within ourselves and it can get overwhelming. And we need to take time, time allow ourselves to adjust to the new reality. That’s when we need to take the time to pray. And look for the light, look for Christ. Because Christ is the light that can never be overcome with darkness. Christ is the light that’s always on, kind of like a nightlight after waking up from a nightmare, or a single candle flame in a blackout, or the stars in a jet black sky. Even the tiniest bit of light is incredibly bright in the dark, and instinctively we are drawn to the light, once we’ve calmed down and are looking for it. As we get closer to the light, it becomes brighter and brighter and then we’re enveloped in that light, like opening the door to the sunshine.
And then, how do we testify, how do we witness to that light, the light that overcame our darkness? Well, if walking around in camel’s hair clothing and eating locusts and wild honey aren’t your thing, and admittedly not the way for too many of us, you could become a preacher!
Not your thing either? Well. Here’s a thought, but you need to use your imagination. Did you ever play with a flashlight and mirror as a child, shining the flashlight into the mirror and moving the mirror to reflect the light around?
We can reflect the light of Jesus in the things we do.
But when something comes between us and the light, we are in the dark again, and can no longer reflect it. It doesn’t mean the light’s not there…
If we turn away from the light, we can’t see it, don’t know where it is and so can’t reflect it back either. It doesn’t mean the light’s not there…
So when we turn to the light and reflect it back, it’s like testifying to the light, in how we live our lives, and share with others that belief, how Jesus has changed our lives. I’m going to bet that every single one of you here has a story of how God has touched you, in one way or another. So shine the light, reflect the light, and sometimes the light even reflects onto someone else and helps them to see the light. And they’ll want to get a mirror too!
The Rev’d JoAnn Todd, Rector
The Regional Ministry of Hope