St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for December 17, 2017 

Advent 3 B

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
December 17, 2017
John 1:6-8, 19-28
3 Advent B
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     For those of you who were here last Sunday, you may be saying to yourselves, "Didn't we hear this gospel last week?" Well, yes and no. The gospel last Sunday was from the gospel of Mark, who describes John the Baptist in greater detail than the gospel of John. Both gospels refer to the passage in Isaiah last Sunday about the voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord."
     But in the prologue of John's gospel that we read this morning, John, who is not called John the Baptist but just John, is answering the questions of the priests and the Levites who were sent by the Jews to find out who John the Baptist is. "Who are you?" they ask.
     John answers their question with who he is not. He is not the Messiah. He is not Elijah. He is not a prophet. "Then who are you?" they want to know. "What do you say about yourself?" John then quotes Isaiah that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord.
     The priests and Levites continue to question John. If you are not the Messiah or Elijah or a prophet, then why are you baptizing? John replies that he is baptizing with water, but the one who comes after me is greater than I. I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.
     John the Baptist knows who he is and what he is supposed to be doing. He is to prepare the way for the Messiah, the Christ, to come into the world and show others the way of God.
     Everything that John the Baptist says and does points to God. He wants people to be prepared to welcome Jesus and listen to him. John knows that the One who is greater than he will come after him. He knows his role - to prepare others for the coming of Jesus and then step out of the way. When the priests and Levites from Jerusalem come to John the Baptist to question him about who he is, he is quite clear about who he is and who he is not.
     John the Baptist was a witness to the coming of Jesus by what he said and did. Who do we witness to and how do we do it? How do we point others to Christ? By the way we live, by the words we use, by the way we treat people. If others can see Christ in us, we are pointing them toward Christ. When we welcome people who are new to St. John's, we are pointing the way to Christ. When we help the lonely, the homeless, the lost, the oppressed, the hungry, we are pointing the way to Christ.
     John the Baptist was an evangelist. He pointed the way to Christ. Many of us are uncomfortable with the word "evangelist" because it conjures up the image of a person standing on a street corner thumping on an extra large black leather Bible and shouting scripture verses, usually ones that tell us how bad we are. And we do not like that image. It's NOT evangelism when people try to coerce or frighten others to follow Christ. Evangelism is encouraging others to come and see for themselves.
     Evangelism is all the ways we live out the gospel of Jesus Christ - inviting friends to come to church with us, helping the less fortunate, praying for those who are sick and in need. It is how we treat our co-workers, how we speak to our children, our parents, our friends. Evangelism is not only what we say but what we do.
     How do we answer the question when we are asked "Who are you?" We might reply, I'm a lawyer, or a bookkeeper, or a teacher - whatever our profession might be. Or we might respond with, "I am the mother of so and so", or the husband or wife of so and so." What is it that defines who we are?
     In this Advent season, John the Baptist reminds us that our identity comes from our relationship with God, not our vocation or relationships with others. And certainly not the brand name jeans or athletic shoes we wear, as our consumeristic culture wants us to believe. Our identity comes from our relationship with God -who we are as God's children. Sometimes we may feel like the voice of John in the wilderness, all alone, by ourselves, fighting the 21st century consumerism that wants to define us by what we buy. Especially during this time of year, when TV ads try to tell us what we need to buy to be happy or successful or to climb the social ladder, it's hard to fight it. But they are wrong. It is our relationship with Christ that makes us happy or at peace or content, not the things that we own.
     Our work as God's witnesses is summed up in the first few verses of our reading from Isaiah: "to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the comfort all who mourn."
That is our work in the world, whether it be around the corner or around the world.
     God's word of hope and justice is transformational. As we are continued to be called to do God's work in this world, God gives us the hope and the strength to do it. It is easy to turn away from all that is wrong with this world - hunger, war, fear, immorality, hatred - and focus on the bright lights and songs and good cheer of Christmas. But we cannot forget the poor and hungry and homeless. Our works and our prayers must continue for transformation in this world, for people to see how lives can be changed by following the way of Jesus Christ.
     John the Baptist told us to prepare the way of the Lord. That edict continues for us today - to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoner's and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
     As we approach the end of this Advent season and prepare ourselves for the birth of the Christ child, may we all continue to spread God's word to all who so desperately need to hear it, so they, too, may receive the love of Christ into their hearts and lives. Amen.
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