The Third Sunday of Advent
The Rev. George Pejakovich
John 1:6-8, 19-28

LAST WEEKEND, MY WIFE AND I WERE IN NEW YORK CITY. WHENEVER SHE CATCHES ME WAVING AT PEOPLE FROM OUR PORCH, SHE TAKES ME BACK TO WHERE I GREW UP TO GET MY ATTITUDE ADJUSTED. WELL, WE WERE IN THE GIFT SHOP OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART LOOKING AT CHRISTMAS CARDS. AS WE STOOD IN FRONT OF THE CASE, ANOTHER COUPLE ABOUT OUR AGE CUT RIGHT IN FRONT OF US FORCING US TO STEP BACK. THE MAN, WITH A SHEEPISH GRIN SAID, “WE’RE GOING HERE.” I WANTED TO SAY, “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE,” BUT HELD MY TONGUE. I JUST SAID TO JOYCE, “WE WERE THERE, BUT I GUESS THEY ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN US.” I THEN ASKED HER IF SHE SAW ANY CARDS SHE LIKED. MY LOVE THEN SWEETLY SAID, IN A VOICE A DRILL SERGEANT WOULD ENVY, “I WANT YOU TO PICK THEM OUT, SINCE YOU’RE THE PRIEST.” THE COUPLE CRINGED, GRABBED A BOX OF CARDS AND FLED THE SCENE. HEY; YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHO YOU ARE DEALING WITH IN THIS LIFE.

THIS WAS THE PROBLEM FOR THE PRIESTS AND LEVITES FROM JERUSALEM WHEN THEY CAME TO SEE JOHN; THEY DIDN’T KNOW WITH WHOM THEY WERE DEALING, AND THEY WANTED TO KNOW. JOHN WAS UPSETTING THE RELIGIOUS POWERS BECAUSE OF WHAT HE WAS DOING; BAPTIZING MASSES OF PEOPLE. BAPTISM WAS NOT UNKNOWN TO JUDAISM. THERE WAS, OF COURSE, THE MIKVAH, THE BATH FOR RITUAL PURITY, BUT THERE WAS ALSO A RITE OF BAPTISM FOR THOSE GENTILES WHO WANTED TO BECOME JEWS, AND THERE WAS THE RITE OF BAPTISM PRACTICED BY THE ESCEENES. BOTH RITES WERE A SYMBOLIC WASHING AWAY OF THE OLD LIFE TO BEGIN A NEW. THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES WANTED TO KNOW WHY JOHN WAS DOING THIS, WHO GAVE HIM THE AUTHORITY TO DO THIS, AND WHAT DID IT MEAN.

FOR FOUR HUNDRED YEARS, THERE WAS NO PROPHET IN THE LAND, AND FOR THE JEWISH PEOPLE IT MUST HAVE SEEMED THAT GOD WAS SILENT. THEY WERE WAITING AND WAITING FOR ANOTHER PROPHET TO COME SOON TO BRING THE VOICE OF GOD TO THEM; BUT THERE WAS ONLY QUIET.

THE WORLD AROUND THEM WAS ANYTHING BUT QUIET. IN THE FOUR HUNDRED YEARS THEY WERE FIRST UNDER THE HEEL OF THE PERSIANS, THEN THE GREEKS, AND THEN THE SYRIANS, THEN THE MACABBES WON A BRIEF PERIOD OF FREEDOM, BUT ALONG CAME THE ROMANS TO GRIND THEM UNDER AGAIN. HOW THEY MUST HAVE LONGED TO HEAR THE VOICE OF GOD AS THEY WAITED FOR A NEW PROPHET TO COME TO THEM, OR EVEN WITH A HOPE BEYOND HOPE, THE MESSIAH. THE TURMOIL CAUSED BY JOHN MADE THEM WONDER, “WHO IS HE? COULD HE BE THE ONE?”

SO THEY ASKED HIM POINT BLANK, “WHO ARE YOU?” TO THEIR QUESTION, JOHN DEFINED HIMSELF BY WHO HE WAS NOT. THE SOMEWHAT AWKWARD PHRASE OF “HE CONFESSED BUT DID NOT DENY IT,” IS MEANT TO CONVEY THAT HIS ANSWER WAS NOT A SIMPLE DENIAL THAT HE WAS THE MESSIAH, BUT AS A WITNESS THAT THE MESSIAH WAS SOMEONE ELSE. THEY THEN ASKED HIM IF HE WERE ELIJAH, OR THE PROPHET, MEANING MOSES. HE ANSWERED “NO” TO BOTH. WHEN THEY PRESSED HIM FURTHER, JOHN TOLD THEM EXACTLY WHO HE WAS, “I AM THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING OUT IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD.’”

THE GREAT THEOLOGIAN, KARL BARTH, USED THE ALTAR PIECE IN THE CHURCH AT ISENHEIM, GERMANY, TO ILLUSTRATE THE ROLE OF JOHN, AND CORRESPONDINGLY, THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH. THE ALTAR DEPICTS THE MEETING OF JOHN AND JESUS ON THE BANKS OF THE JORDAN. THE DEPICTION IS REALISTIC EXCEPT FOR ONE DETAIL; JOHN’S INDEX FINGER IS DISTORTED. IT IS DISPROPORTIONATELY LARGE AS IT POINTS TO JESUS. IN A SINGLE PICTURE, WE SEE THE MISSION OF JOHN, AND THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH. EVERYTHING JOHN DID WAS TO PREPARE FOR THE COMING OF THE MESSIAH OF GOD, AND WHEN HE CAME, JOHN POINTED HIM OUT AND SAID, “BEHOLD! THE LAMB OF GOD!” JOHN WAS CLEAR IN HIS UNDERSTANDING THAT HIS ROLE WAS TO POINT TO JESUS, AND IT WAS NEVER ABOUT HIMSELF. SO TOO, MUST WE EVER UNDERSTAND THAT WHAT WE ARE ABOUT IS NEVER ABOUT US, BUT IN ALL THAT WE SAY AND DO WE MUST ALWAYS POINT TO JESUS.

THE VOICE OF THE LORD HAS BEEN HEARD IN THE LAND, AND GOD HIMSELF HAS COME TO US. WHAT ISRAEL LONGED FOR AND HOPED FOR HAS BEEN REVEALED TO US BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD IN THE PERSON OF JESUS. AS JOHN WITNESSED TO THE IMMINENT COMING OF THE MESSIAH, WE ARE THE WITNESSES TO THE FACT THAT HE HAS COME TO US, HE IS WITH US, AND THAT HE WILL COME AGAIN IN ALL HIS GLORY. A WITNESS, A MARTYIOS, IS SOMEONE WHO HAS A PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE OF AN EVENT; WHICH IS WHY WE GIVE THE NAME OF MARTYR TO THOSE WHO TESTIFIED THAT JESUS IS LORD EVEN UNTO DEATH. WITH THEIR LAST BREATH, THEY WITNESSED TO THE ONE WHO WAS, AND IS, AND IS TO COME. THIS IS OUR CALLING, OUR MISSION, OUR PURPOSE; TO WITNESS TO ALL THAT THE LORD HAS COME, IS WITH US, AND WILL COME AGAIN.

HOW THEN ARE WE TO LIVE AS A PEOPLE LIVING BETWEEN THE ADVENTS OF OUR LORD AND GOD? IT IS SIMPLE; “REJOICE ALWAYS, PRAY WITHOUT CEASING, GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES; FOR THIS IS THE WILL OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS FOR YOU.” ONCE I STOP THINKING IT IS ALL ABOUT ME, AND TRYING TO LIVE BY MY OWN LIGHT, AND SEE THAT IT REALLY IS ALL ABOUT JESUS AND HIS LIGHT WHICH HE BRINGS TO THE WORLD, THINGS GET PRETTY SIMPLE. I CAN REJOICE ALWAYS, BECAUSE HE IS WITH ME IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES.

DIETRICK BONHOFFER, WHILE IN A NAZI PRISON WROTE A LETTER TO HIS FIANCE ABOUT A LESSON HE LEARNED IN PRISON. HE WROTE, LIFE IN A PRISON CELL MAY WELL BE COMPARED TO ADVENT; ONE WAITS, HOPES, AND DOES THIS, THAT, OR THE OTHER – THINGS THAT ARE OF REALLY NO CONSEQUENCE – THE DOOR IS SHUT, AND CAN BE OPENED ONLY FROM THE OUTSIDE. THE DOOR HAS BEEN OPENED FOR US, AND THE DARK HAS BEEN DISPELLED BY THE LIGHT OF CHRIST, AND IN THAT LIGHT WE LIVE, AND IN THAT LIGHT WE CAN REJOICE IN ALL THINGS. IN THAT LIGHT, WE, LIKE JOHN, ARE SENT BY GOD TO TESTIFY TO THE LIGHT. WE ARE NOT THE LIGHT, BUT, WITH THE LIGHT OF CHRIST SHINNING THROUGH US, WE CAN POINT TO THE LIGHT OF CHRIST TO OTHERS, AND BE THE WITNESSES WE ARE ALL CALLED TO BE. SO REJOICE; THE LORD HAS COME, THE LORD IS WITH US, AND THE LORD WILL COME AGAIN.
AMEN

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