By The Rev. Sherry Deets
3 Advent – December 13, 2014
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Today’s gospel reading is about the John the Baptist from the perspective of the Apostle John. Last week we heard the story from Mark’s perspective. If you will recall, Mark’s story was more concerned with the baptism of repentance, while John’s telling of it is more concerned with the testimony, or the witness, of John the Baptist. Rather than placing a focus on the character of the Baptist, the Gospel of John keeps the focus on the message, the message God has for the people, the message God has for Christians throughout the ages. It’s much like the Buddhist monk who shared this wisdom1:
“Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger.” The “finger” may be words, a religious icon, a beautiful sunset, a passage of Scripture, or another human being. But we must always “gaze beyond the finger” in order to see the moon. The “moon” in our case is the incarnation of God.
John the Baptist was not the light; rather he came to testify to it (John 1:8). The Baptist is the “finger” who points to the “moon;” he is not the moon itself. He is a channel for grace, the one who points us toward Jesus, the light of the world. I am struck by the possibility that he tells the story of John the Baptist in a way that suggests you and I are now in the role of John the Baptist. We are the ones who now give testimony to the light of the world so that others might believe in him. We are the ones who are to prepare the way of the Lord. We are the ones who can look around and see that Christ is among us even though others may not recognize him in our midst .
There is a marvelous old legend about St. Francis. Brother Juniper said to St. Francis, “Teach me to preach as eloquently as you. I am not good with words.” “I will teach you to preach more eloquently than I,” said St. Francis. “Meet me tomorrow and I shall teach you to preach.” Brother Juniper dutifully met Francis early the next morning. To Juniper’s surprise, they began walking. They walked through the market place, smiling at the laborers, the merchants, the children. They helped an old woman carry her wash up a set of stairs. They walked. Finally, an exasperated Brother Juniper asked, “Francis, when shall you teach me to preach?” St. Francis replied, “Why, we are preaching.”
What does that story mean? It means that we witness to Christ when we obey his commandment to love one another. It means that we witness to Christ when we show compassion for the poor and the vulnerable. It means that witnessing to Christ need not be an “in your face” experience where we make people uncomfortable. It means that our service to others in the name of Christ is very much like John’s preaching in the wilderness.
A few years ago, a young pastor shared a story with my friend David. A year or so earlier, his mother had asked him why he was the only one of her children who still went to church. In response, he asked her what she would tell her children – his siblings – if they asked her why she went to church. Why, in short, was her faith important to her? He reported that what followed was the most uncomfortable twenty minutes of conversation he’d ever had with his mother. Because, like many adult Christians, she hadn’t been asked to talk about her faith since confirmation. And so articulating her reasons for going to church, let alone the importance of her faith, was remarkably difficult. Eventually, she came out with a single clear sentence describing what her faith meant to her. In response, her son said simply, “That was great, Mom. When they ask, tell them that.”
I wonder if someone asked any of us why our congregation matters to us; why, in short, your faith is important to you, if it would be easy to answer that question. Can we name and share why our faith is important to us with our friends, our family, our co-workers, and our neighbors. Not in a pushy, in-your-face kind of way, but rather in the same honest, even casual way we’d share other things that are important to us, whether it’s our support for our favorite sports team or political candidate or our views on some current issue. When we realize that John the Baptist is merely a witness to Christ, it becomes clear that his role is our role. We have a duty and an obligation to bear witness to the same Christ who lives among us.
If the story of Jesus is to be told this year, it is up to us. We are the new “voice[s] in the wilderness” who are preparing the way for Christ. How receptive our world is to that message depends in large part upon the way we open doors and hearts and minds. Christ is here now.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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