John’s gospel opens with the familiar words, ‘In the beginning was the word’. That word, Jesus Christ, has been alive since the beginning of time and will still be alive at the end of time. He is the light which extinguishes darkness. The contrast between light and darkness reveals the distance between who we are and who God is, between how we want to live and how God wants us to live. Are we people of light living in the darkness? Or are we people of the dark living in the light?
As Dr. Bailey paraphrased John’s Gospel last week, God came to pitch his tent among us! Neither abandoned to our own devices nor left to our own efforts to save ourselves, God comes into our darkness with His light. Can there be any more good news to come?
There is no more good news. However, just as there are many layers to an onion, there are many layers to this good news. One layer is the good news of God’s arrival. The second layer is the call to discipleship which is defined this morning by John the Baptizer (who was not Baptist by the way!).
In John’s Gospel, John the Baptizer is not the locust consuming, honey eating one we meet in other gospels. He arrives on the scene as the narrative of John’s gospel begins. What is even more peculiar is that John is even mentioned in something we call good news. The only event for which John is remarkable is that he was born before Jesus.
He did not perform miracles. He certainly did not heal the sick. He did not raise the dead. He only told the truth: that God was not done with the poor, the grieving, the lonely, or the sinful.
We usually think of John the Baptizer as heralding the birth of Jesus in preparation for Christmas but do not misunderstand where we are headed. We are neither going backward in God’s story nor in our faith. We are going forward with John the Baptizer who heralds the healing love of God and how it impacts our lives and ministry for today.
John is not confused by God’s purposes. He is Jesus’ cousin. But he is not as motivated to protect family lineage as he is to promote God’s faithfulness to Pharasaic naysayers. The doubts of the doubting are laid to rest. It proves the point that “Through God all things are possible”.
Then it should come as no surprise to us that John is the one to proclaim the good news of who Christ is in simple terms; he is the long – awaited Messiah. Long awaited for people in Jesus’ day and long – awaited Messiah for us in our day.
John’s claim is audacious because it is a proclamation that undermines religious authorities and the status quo. John’s claims about life with Jesus undermine life as we know it. Life as we know it is never as good as the life that God gives.
John the Baptizer talks about baptism. Baptism was a common practice for the Jews. It was a ritualized cleansing which absolved each Jew for being unclean. Such uncleanliness may have included anything from touching a dead body, to theft, to acting dishonorably toward a father or mother. But John proclaims a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. John’s assertion that baptism was connected not only to a relationship with God but to a holy relationship with our neighbors.
Baptism is a visible sign of that invisible grace of salvation. But that does not mean that we can rest on our laurels while the rest of the world flounders in darkness. In fact, John tells us that if we are baptized and don’t change our ways, then repentance means nothings.
Baptism is inseparable from our behavior. Our lives are saved from the darkness that plagues a fallen world and saved for something else. From the youngest to the oldest, we are to be like John the Baptizer. We are to be messengers of the living Christ and his salvation.
The joy of being saved is reflected in being selfless in our giving. May we give to those in need. May we give out of our abundance of time. May our Baptisms show the world that we are committed to behaving like Christ. May we be honest with each other. And by being selfless, honest and fair, may our salvation be others’ saving grace. Because, once baptized, we live to serve and to testify to what we have seen and heard in the good news of Christmas; the birth of the Christ Child. We are to use the cliché ‘keep Christmas all year through’ meaning to be what John has tasked us with being witnesses, heralds, truth tellers, messengers and pointers. No, we are not the Messiah, but have met the Messiah in Jesus Christ and it is to this end that we have a responsibility in word and deed to speak this and to live this day by day. Perhaps this is how we can most relate to the person of John the Baptizer.
Mind you we are not to seem to be better than we are but we are messengers non the less and we have a job to do. We are to stay connected to the church, to the scriptures and to Jesus Christ. He is our source of life, our purpose, our hope. In our scripture reading for today, people have gathered to ask John point blank if he was the messiah to which he simply says no. He is a pointer. On who has been sent to light a way to the light. He has come to give the great testimony to the truth that light and darkness exist but that the darkness cannot and will not consume the dark. Jesus is stronger. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
I ring the door bell and after a few moments I hear the drag of a tennis ball clad walker making its way to the door. Wessey opens the door and I behold her stately yet hunched stature. She welcomes me in. We exchange hugs and hellos. She is 94 and vibrant and as vibrant as a 94 year old can be with dancing eyes, sharp mind, and tender smile. We engage in a pleasant conversation and catch up on things and family. A lull happens in the conversation as it tends to do. Wessey breaks the silence, ‘you know I pray for you and your family every day…it is the least and most I can do”. I thank you and tell her how much it means to be prayed for. I am reminded of John’s Gospel about light and come to the realization that the woman of faith before embodies light. She bears it, she lives it…she shares it. She is a herald. She has a testimony to share about the real light of the world in Christ. It may seem simple but in a world where the darkness encroaches each day, it is as brilliant as the morning sun and testifies to her savior and her faith.
We are each called to be pointers; to testify to what we have seen and heard. Jesus is Lord. He has been Lord from the beginning, he is Lord even now and will be Lord in the end. Amen.