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Advent 3B Sermon
John 1: 6-8, 19-28
13, 2020


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John 1:6-8, 19-28

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ 21And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ 22Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ 23He said,
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’,
as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ 26John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Welcome to Gaudete Sunday! Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice!” I have at times during children’s sermons talked about how the word looks a little like our English word, “gaudy”. And it is related, as gaudy is defined as anything that is marked by extravagance or sometimes tasteless showiness. Gaudiness might be considered a way of showing unbridled enthusiasm and joy for life, not caring what others around might think. I have always felt that the gaudiest part of the Christmas celebration for many Americans – Christian or not – are light displays, especially when a house goes all out with flashing or blinking lights, inflatable decorations and accompanying music. My family and I experienced this first-hand last night when we ventured up route 23 to Lewis Center to see a house that puts on an annual display that they call, “The Griswold Delaware Display.” It is named such after the family in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, led by the father Clark Griswold, who put so many lights on their home that the auxiliary nuclear power switched had to be engaged by the city. The Delaware Griswold display took over 230 hours to assemble, cost the homeowners about $7,200 and features 130,915 lights!! This Griswold family of Delaware not only has gotten into the gaudy Christmas spirit of joy, but they have spent a lot of time, money and effort to share that joy with others!
Experiencing that kind of holiday luminescence certainly lifted our spirits last night. I have to admit, I am excited to tell folks about it so that they can experience it as well!

Our Gospel reading includes some of the opening verses of the Gospel of John – “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” Light and darkness are long-used themes for good and evil. It is bad enough in our day when the sun sets and things that threaten us can be more hidden from our view, but in Biblical times it was even worse. There was no ambient light coming from a city, at least like the electronic lights that luminate the horizon today. Just approach a new car dealership on the highway at night and you will notice that it is almost like the middle of the day there – a security measure to prevent would-be thieves from hiding in the shadows. But in the time when the only source of light was fire fed by wood or oil, the darkness can press in upon a person, almost overwhelming them into panic. Even if there is nothing there to threaten or hide, the darkness itself becomes a source of evil and oppression. It is almost as if the dark of night personifies the presence of the evil one.

Into the reality of this darkness we are re-presented with the figure of John the Baptizer. The gospel writer, John, leaves out some details that Mark included last week about his strange wardrobe and diet, but his job as a witness to the light is lifted up. He is adamant that he is not the one upon which they have all been waiting for – the messiah promised for many years. He is not even the prophet who is supposed to come before the messiah. He is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, to make straight the way of the Lord. He is preparing the way for the one who’s sandals he is not worthy to untie. He is the one who has come to testify to the light of the world, Jesus Christ.

Having someone give testimony makes all the difference in the world to us. It is one thing to know the facts or to read figures about something – how many hours, dollars and lights were used for a Christmas display, for example. But when someone shares with you their experiences and the joy it brought them it becomes more meaningful, more real for you. It is something that can make you rejoice in person, especially if that news is Gospel – if it is good news.

We have a need for light this time of year in the northern hemisphere. The hours of daylight are at their shortest for the next couple of weeks until the tilting of the earth gains some momentum on its return. I could tell you that the earth tilts on its axis, and that tilt oscillates on average about 22-24 degrees in what scientists call, “axial procession,” or “the procession of the equinoxes.” I could tell you that this is caused by the gravitational forces of the sun, moon and other planets. I could show you a chart of the times for sunrises and sunsets in Columbus, Ohio for the 365 days of the year; but if I really want you to experience it, my testimony would be to show you what 6:00 a.m. and p.m. look like on December 21, and then to show you what those two times of day look like on June 21. It is like night and day, literally! This kind of personal testimony, like that of an expert witness in a court of law, brings reality to life and instills a joy of what is to come for those who look forward to the fulfillment of the promise of more and longer periods of light in our community.

I think that you will also agree that we have a real need for light in our world in general. These seem like dark times in our country and community – political division and resentment is rampant, the pandemic still threatens even with the promise of a vaccine on the horizon, so many people are hurting emotionally and financially as businesses like restaurants and bars struggle to get enough business to stay open; renters and those with mortgages who cannot pay face eviction or foreclosure. Meanwhile we still struggle with an underlying racism that rears its ugly head daily, sometimes at the expense of a young person’s life. On top of that, we have police officers who face the difficult job of enforcing the law and making judgments every day about what to do, when to use lethal force, and when to trust their instincts. Darkness is pervasive – none of us are exempt from its effects. We need a witness to the fact that Jesus is the light of the world in today’s day. We need someone to testify to the light which overcomes the darkness and evil of sin, death, and the devil.

Friends,, those called to be that witness, to share that testimony, are the ones who call ourselves The Church. In our words and actions, we can point people to the light of Christ which we experience in our lives every day. It is more than spouting Biblical verses and simple mottos like, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” It is a lifestyle where we not only point people to the light, but we reflect the light in our very lives. We live into the call that Isaiah talks in our first lesson – trusting that God has anointed us – the Church and disciples in it – to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. We are called to testify to the light by pointing to those individuals and organizations that already do this, and by joining them in their light-shining activities; and where there is still darkness and no one doing anything about it, we are to be the ones who shine the light of Christ on it, so that the darkness can be dispelled.

Amid the meager outdoor lights we have at our house, we also have a couple of yard signs. One of them features a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that says, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” As we seek to join John to point a dark world to the light of Christ, may we be emboldened to love those who only seem to live out of hate. That is the love that Jesus perfectly shared during his life and especially during his death. That is the love that we are preparing to celebrate on Christmas. That is the love that shines light in our world and makes everyone rejoice. Amen.