This is the sermon preached by the Rev. Canon Linda Taylor on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2020.
3 Advent—December 13, 2020
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
This is the second week in a row that we’ve heard the story of John the messenger. Last week, we heard Mark’s gospel naming John as the messenger referred to by the prophet Isaiah—the messenger who will go ahead of the Lord, preparing a straight path in the wilderness—the place where life is hard and the way forward is hard to see. This week we hear John’s gospel naming him as a witness whose purpose is to testify to the light. The priests and Levites come from Jerusalem to ask John who he is. He responds: I am not the messiah. They keep at him, asking if he’s Elijah or a prophet. Each time he responds with what he knows to be true—that he is the messenger sent to prepare the way.
That seems so simple and straightforward, doesn’t it? John just tells the truth about who he is. Why is that so important that we need to hear it two weeks in a row? John is telling the truth about who he is. That’s all—and that’s everything. I suggest to you that knowing the truth about who we are is one of the biggest tasks of our lives. Knowing the truth about who we are is the key to fruitful relationship with our individual selves, with the people around us and with God. It’s a task that never ends but always brings us closer to the deep peace at the center of all creation.
I may be speaking only for myself, but it seems to me that the hardest part of that knowing involves coming to awareness that we are not God. Not even god with a little bitty G. We each tend to believe that our worldview is the most accurate, that our opinions are the most informed, that our knowledge of the world and its working is most comprehensive. We speak for God, we interpret God’s actions to each other, and we tell God what it is that God ought to do. It’s hard to separate ourselves from the notion that God is a lot like us—only maybe a little bit bigger.
But here comes John, showing us how to do that, making it really clear that he’s not the messiah. He’s not the breath of God—the promised anointed one. He’s not Elijah come again to put the people on the right track. He’s not even a prophet come to call the people to remember the way. He’s the messenger sent to prepare the way for the One who comes.
And so are we. Last week, the first words of Mark’s gospel told us that it was the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This week, John’s gospel reminds us that the work of the messenger is to be present in the wilderness—to be witness to the radiance present in the most difficult moments—to prepare the path that leads us to the One who baptizes with the Spirit.
All of us know about the wilderness. We’ve been there. We know we’re going there again. And there have been days in this year when a nice calm wilderness might have felt like a good alternative to the chaos, suffering and tribulation that’s going on in our world. But we are messengers, and John’s story reminds us that we have a story to tell, particularly in times like these. In the midst of confusion, grief and sorrow, we have seen the path grow straight. We have seen the hand of God at work in our lives. We have seen and experienced moments of grace beyond our imagining, and we are here to bear witness to the world through our presence and our actions.
We are not God, but we know God. And that makes all the difference. Knowing God helps us keep grace at the center of our lives and awareness and helps us find the path when the road seems impossibly difficult. Knowing God prepares us to carry the message. Knowing God helps us live in a way that gives hope to world. Knowing God gives us courage to do our best in every day to live into our baptismal covenant promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being.
That is our story. That is our message. And each of us is called to carry that message into this world.
As Christmas approaches, I invite you to a time of reflection—a time of preparation—a time to prepare our hearts for the one who is always with us and who comes to be with us yet again. I invite you to reflect on who you are and how the Christ is being incarnated in your life and witness. I invite you to listen in these next days for the voice that speaks in your heart—and to join in welcoming the one who comes to us in all the times of our lives.
Come, Lord Jesus. O come, O come, Immanuel.