John 1:6-8, 19-28

This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on December 14, 2014.

As we continue in this season of Advent, we are watching and waiting and hoping for Christ’s presence to break into our world and into our lives. But will we know Christ when we see him? What if we’re looking for Christ in all the wrong places, or missing him in all the right ones? In today’s text, John says to the priests and the Levites, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal” (John 1:26-27). Everything I’m doing is to point toward this person who is standing right next to you, he says, yet you don’t even recognize him.

We learn in John 1:10 that Jesus “was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.” This theme continues to be woven throughout John’s Gospel as people constantly struggle to recognize Jesus. The Samaritan woman fails to recognize who it is that asks her for a drink of water, because if she did, she would be asking him for a drink of “living water” and would “never be thirsty again” (Mark 4:7-10). When the Pharisees question and condemn Jesus, he says, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (Mark 8:19). Even the blind man whom Jesus heals has no idea who Jesus is. When he asks Jesus to tell him who is in the Son of God, Jesus says, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he” (Mark 9:35-37). When Judas brings the soldiers and police to the garden to look for Jesus, it is Jesus who approaches them to ask who they are looking for, and not once, but twice reveals his identity to them (Mark 18:1-8). And even in the garden after the crucifixion, Jesus approaches Mary, but she does not recognize him and mistakes Jesus for the gardener (20:11-15). Over and over and over again, we are pulled back to John’s initial statement to the priests and the Levites: “among you stands one whom you do not know” (1:26).

As we approach Christmas, for whom are we watching and waiting and hoping? In the scurry and rush that is often thrust upon us at this time of year, we often lose sight of the very one this season is about. Is it possible that we could encounter Christ each day, in big ways and small, yet we, too, fail to recognize him in unexpected people and places?

John knows who Jesus is, and in him, John finds his own identity, too. The Jewish leaders send the priests and the Levites to grill John on who he is, but instead of agreeing to who it is they expect him to be, he repeats to them, over and over again, who he is not. Malachi 4:5 taught that the Old Testament prophet Elijah would precede the coming of the Messiah, but John clearly says that he is not Elijah. Deuteronomy 18:15-19 said that a prophet like Moses would one day return to Israel, but John also denies that he is the prophet. Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus offers various different “I AM” statements to point people toward his identity (John 6:48; John 8:12; John 10:9; John 10:11; John 11:25; John 14:6; John 15:1). In contrast, John makes it clear, from the very beginning, “I am not.”

Unlike other gospels that present John as a baptizer, in John’s gospel, his primary role here is a “witness.” He is not the light, but in everything he says and does, he points people toward Christ’s light. He is not the Messiah, but he points people toward the One who will become the Savior of the world. He is not the prophet, but he uses his voice to call out and to prepare the way for Christ to come.

This Advent, our ministry, like John’s, is one of constantly pointing people to the light. We, too, are to be voices in the wilderness, calling out that hope is on the way. In 2012, preachers all across America approached pulpits on this third Sunday of Advent, just two days after the horror of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. At a time when darkness was threatening, horrifying, and all-consuming, preachers everywhere were faced with one challenge: to hijack the darkness and to courageously point to the light. This continues to be our challenge today. No, we are not the light. Not even close. Like John, we would do well to remember that, too. But we, like John, are called to be witnesses to the light and the hope of Christ. May we bravely approach pulpits this Advent, knowing who we are and who we are not, and remembering the significance of the task to which we have been called: “to testify to the light, so that all might believe” (John 1:7).

MaryAliceMary Alice Birdwhistell
Associate Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church
Waco, Texas

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