A Homily for
from John 1:6-8, 19-28
revised from a Homily
December 11, 2011
On this Third Sunday of Advent, the Gospel Lectionary reading offers us a description of, "the voice of one crying out in the desert,” whose homily is, “make straight the way of the Lord." This is the prophet/preacher, John the Baptizer.
As we intimated last Sunday, can there be any more of an odd figure to our post-Christian sensibilities than that of this wild-eyed prophet who breaks upon the scene of the Gospel's pages, preaching, of all things, repentance and baptism?
Of course, in that highly charged climate of the first century's political world, any would-be revolutionary would be assessed by the establishment (both Roman and Hebrew), calculating the danger and the threat of its subversive potential.
But John’s was no revolutionary movement, at least not in the way these leaders feared. But to say this may offer you the wrong idea. Actually, John's proclamation offered the ultimate revolution claim, the decisive revolution, really, for the Baptizer is announcing the ultimate alternative to empire:
John answered them,
"I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie."
Of course, the one coming after John was Jesus, and he would be proclaimed as the true alternative to empire. He would be claimed as the rightful King of the world.
But, before we get too far afield, we must turn our attention back to John and ask what today’s presentation of the Baptizer has for us, here at the beginning of the 21st Century?
Well, first, I want you to notice what may be the most important words of the text:
"A man named John was sent from God..."
and why was this man sent from GOD?
"He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him."
So, here today we are confronted with
AND THE TESTIMONY
John, a man called by GOD and sent to testify to what he had seen and heard from the Almighty. And this offering from the Baptizer is so dense that it would take much time and study to plumb its depth. But, to simply and offhandedly say, "Well, God sent this prophet to testify to his message and his purpose," you know the same "BLAH, BLAH, BLAH," like this happens everyday, is to be blatantly naive.
As we said last week, this was a great moment; a moment longed for and cherished. GOD, was finally working among his chosen people, working in a particular time, speaking through his particularly called Messenger. Now, convincingly, the Almighty was at long last speaking to his people, saying in essence: "The I AM is at work; the promises are inexorably coming true! Listen, now, to the message and the messenger..."
And who was this messenger?
The Baptizer, whom we could call the Testifier, said of himself:"I am not the Christ."So the religious leaders asked him,"What are you then? Are you Elijah?"And he said, "I am not.""Are you the Prophet?"He answered, "No."So they said to him,"Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?What do you have to say for yourself?"He said:"I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,'make straight the way of the Lord,'"
In short: the Messenger is pointing not to himself, but to another, to the one who is King -- the Christ. How challenging this must have been for the Baptizer, to have this following but to point them in a different direction. Before his heart constantly must have been these ideas:
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.
There is no evidence that he had the trouble of ego that plagues so many preachers and church leaders.
What must also not be forgotten is that the Messenger has been sent to speak for the LORD, GOD. I cannot think in this way without being reminded of that great and vital passage from the letter to the Hebrews:
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
It was not that Judaism was incorrect; far from it. No, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews would have us know that the Christ — whom he believed to be the Hebrew Messiah — does not upend the message of the patriarchs and the prophets but instead finally completes them.
For the Christian faith, then, the Christ marks the final and most complete word from GOD, and his arrival on the scene brought to a climax the great, ongoing story of the chosen people.
Listen to what the Baptizer says later on in this same chapter:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one I was talking about when I said, 'Soon a man is coming who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before I did.' I didn't know he was the one, but I have been baptizing with water in order to point him out to Israel." Then John said, "I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn't know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, 'When you see the Holy Spirit descending and resting upon someone, he is the one you are looking for. He is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Son of God." (JOHN 1:29-34 NLT)
But, what must not be missed is the THE TESTIFIER also has THE TESTIMONY.
There seemed to have been a dearth of prophetic proclamations. The heavens had been, more often than not, silent. The chosen people had been waiting for GOD to act. Some were still faithfully preparing their hearts for the promises of the LORD to be fulfilled, and some had given in to despair. Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, the Word of the LORD again bursts forth on the scene, and like rain to the parched earth, the longed for message is swallowed up in joy!
Well, not exactly...
For the Baptizer's testimony was not initially a message of joy, but one of repentance, of preparation, of moving ones life to be in sync with what GOD was about to do.
This was a message of change, a change of heart that would lead to a change of national behavior and actions. This meant not only a change on the part of the people in general, but in their leaders as well.
Here was a message that told the people and their leaders that the GOD of old was finally current, present, responding to cries of the people. It was as if the Almighty had heard the lament from such poems as Psalms 80, just as he heard the cries of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, and was now coming to them for a new exodus:
From Psalm 80:
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth2a Stir up your might, and come to save us! 3b Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.14 Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, 15 the stock that your right hand planted.18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. 19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
How would they respond?
All of this clearly informs our Advent; all of this clearly reminds us that in our waiting, now for some two-thousand years, that our calling is to daily renewal, to daily repentance, to daily preparation for the final renewal of all things under the LORDSHIP of the Christ which is presently real and will one day be known by all.
Here is the problem for us. We are far removed from that moment of the Baptizer's testimony and the subsequent victory of the Christ's cross and resurrection. We have been waiting so long for the LORD's ultimate overturning of the power of evil and empire -- an overturning through a new, startling act of grace -- that we easily succumb to the attraction of security from empire (which is false) even as we move away from the sojourn of the narrow way of the new humanity (which is true).
The gift of Advent from the church then, is a way to renew our allegiance to the Christ, as we seek to endure within this long, long story of exile, even as we wait for the final and complete vindication that will happen at the LORD's appearing.
The gift of Advent from the church means to remind us that even what seems to be silence from heaven is not really silence at all. That the Gospel Message of the Christ has been let loose in the world as power, a powerful message of good news that changes lives and futures when it is inhaled by faith.
Finally, the gift of Advent from the church means that the community of Faith is given a call to a resurgent proclamation of the Gospel. That is, Advent as renewal of allegiance and reminder of the ever-present message of Christ, means we who are now the community of faith must take up this message and proclaim to all who care to hear that Jesus is LORD, not Caesar and not empire.