The Third Sunday of Advent
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
John 1:6-8, 19-23

 

 


One sure way we can tell that the Advent season is upon us and that Christmas is drawing near is the lights. From the soft extra glow that comes from the church Advent Wreath to the more garish light displays on houses and stores, each day the world grows brighter and brighter in expectation of, and preparation for, the coming Christmas celebration.

On this third Sunday of Advent, as we draw ever closer to the coming of Christmas, our gospel lesson this morning carries the theme of light. We are once again with John the Baptist at the River Jordan. And we are told that John’s mission, John’s purpose in the world, is to testify to the light, to bear witness to the light.

Now, we know that John isn’t the first person in the Bible to talk about light as a way to understand the Word of God. There were other bearers of the light before John, and so our story begins with them.

In the creation story that opens the first book of the Bible, Genesis, –the first act of creation is light. “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…” On those ever rarer occasions in our life when we experience true and total darkness, we understand what “formless void” means: it’s a nothingness, an alone-ness that pierces through to the very soul and leaves us dead senseless in terms of direction and equilibrium.

But God said, “Let there be light,” and the Word of God – that act of God – changed the world forever. There was light, and there was life.

The amazing thing to me about light is that it’s really something we can’t see; but it changes everything it touches. Think about it. There’s no shape or form or color to light. But without it there’s no shape or form or color to anything. Light itself is invisible, yet it makes visible every other thing–every other shape and form in all their glorious colors.

Light shines and our world comes alive. The light shines on vegetation and causes growth, productivity and the fruits of life. Light is the sphere of natural life, and darkness is the void.

The priests and Levites from Jerusalem came to John and asked him, “Who are you? Are you Elijah? Are you the prophet?” For in the past days Elijah and the prophets had caused a light to shine on the darkness of the disobedient people of the covenant.

But John quickly denied any such identity, saying, “I am not the Messiah nor Elijah nor the prophet. I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'”

And so it is that John as “the voice,” as “the witness,” helps the world around him remember the light from the past, and to turn and look for the light that is to come—the light of the world. That light is Jesus who is coming into the world.

And when Jesus comes, people will see the shape and form of their world. When Jesus comes, the people will see the shape and form of the world God has intended in creation. When Jesus comes, life will flourish and abound. Like the light that brought forth life from the darkness before creation, the light of the world—the light of Christ—will bring forth life in the lives of humankind.

The darkness of our souls will disappear in the brightness of his glory. The pain that is caused by emptiness and nothingness and aloneness will be replaced with vitality and joy and peace as the darkened corners of our lives are lighted. The anguish of broken relationships and loss will be turned away and the gaps of separation mended by the light.

To one in darkness, the simplest light – even a candle – can bring great joy. & What greater joy comes from the illumination of our sprits by the Living Word of God in Jesus Christ?

John the Baptist came out of the desert wilderness into the civilized world of the covenant people to turn the world towards the light once again. This time it wasn’t a light of remembrance, or of hope, but to turn the world to see the light itself in Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that no one ever sees the light itself, but only the image that’s illumined by the light. That’s how our vision, our seeing, works. Light reflects off an object, bounces back to the eye, is filtered through a small hole (the pupil), which projects the image of the object onto the retina, and that’s what we see: not the object, but the image of object—its reflection.

Pretty enlightening, huh? Light, the bearer of life itself, shines on an object or a person and the image of that object shines in our eye and becomes real for us.

John’s mission was to turn on the light. His mission was to point to life itself illumined by Jesus, the light of the world, so that life could be reflected in our eyes!

And it seems to me that the mission of John the Baptist is our mission too: to point people to the light, to be a reflection of the light. Just as the light of the world has been reflected in our life’s eye, so may that light that has illumined us be reflected to and in the eyes of others.

As we prepare for God this Advent season, let us look to the light, and let the light of the world shine in us, so we may be witnesses for the light – reflections of the light – “so that all might believe through him.”

Come Lord Jesus. Let your light shine brightly in our lives, and in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.