Third Sunday of Advent
Introduction and Call to Worship
We wait in the days of darkness for the dawning of the one true light. Let us heed the message of John, the one who came to bear witness to the light, and prepare ourselves to meet our Saviour.
First Reading Isaiah 61:1-4. 8-11
The God of Israel sends a messenger to proclaim to his people the good news of coming salvation.
Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
God’s messengers are to be welcomed, but their messages carefully weighed.
Gospel John 1:6-8. 19-28
The forerunner, John the Baptist, proclaims the imminent coming of the long-expected Christ – the light of the world.
HOMILY “He himself was not the light.” (John 1:8)
How many pessimists does it take to change a light bulb? None, it’s a waste of time because the new bulb probably won’t work anyway! Now, I am going to let you into a secret – now do you promise not to tell anyone? Do you?
I love light and everything to do with it! Yes, it is true! One of my favourite things is the sun on a shimmering hot sunny day, sunsets and sunrises, the cold winter sun – the light from a roaring fire, or the glow of warm white fairy lights at Christmas – our Tower Christmas lights, the glow of a television screen and so much more that illuminates, and lights me up on the outside and inside; and this is not simply a physical love, it is a theological one also. And I think I share this love of all that enlightens with the one called by God to proclaim the coming of Jesus, or as John puts it in his prologue to his Gospel, “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. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1: 6-9)
John the Baptist is the forerunner to Jesus and it is his task to introduce this light that will enlighten all things. Last week in Mark’s Gospel we were introduced to John the Baptist, the last of the great Prophets, the character who stands between the Old and New relationship with God, written for us in the scriptures as the Old and New Testament. Today from John’s Gospel perspective, John the Baptist’s personality is revealed in greater depth as he points beyond himself to where the light is shining brightly. But people seem puzzled by John as they flood out into the wilderness to catch a glimpse, and perhaps a word, of the odd-ball by the river Jordan.
Context is important. For centuries the people of Israel have been anticipating the arrival of the Messiah; the prophets of old spoke of this moment and John speaks of a coming mediator and great leader - but none has specified the date and time, so would-be audiences are waiting with bated breath in great anticipation. The Messiah is supposed to come. Why the delay? The Romans are in power, God’s people are oppressed, living in metaphorical darkness (perhaps even a spiritual darkness as we see Jesus challenge their religious leaders), so surely it was the ideal time for the true light to shine: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1: 3-5) John the Baptist speaks of Jesus coming after him, but the people have genuine questions for him: ‘Are you the Messiah, the promised one? Are you ‘He,’ the anointed one?’ People don’t want to take the risk of being wrong, but they need to know, so they send members of their community to ask the question ‘are you the one we have been waiting for?’ John denies it. He is not the main event – the light – and he points to Jesus who is the promised light to enlighten the nations.
John may not have been the light, but he points us to where it is found, and it is important to pay attention to his message as we prepare for the star, a light blazing on the stage of history that illuminates everything – the light that was there for the very first moments of creation, with His Father and the Holy Spirit. As St John reminds us in his prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1: 1-3) We will hear these words again several times over the coming Christmas period, as we reflect upon the light to enlighten the nations, the same light that brought everything into being and the same light that will judge all things at the end of time – Jesus our Saviour.
A lightbulb walks up to a doctor and says, “Doctor, I’m broken. Can you help?” The doctor says, “Yes, I know how to fix you.” The lightbulb says, “Brilliant, enlighten me!” Look, I didn’t say these jokes were any good now did I! The world around us has already begun celebrating Christmas with festive lights, parties and a lot of merriment. Amidst all the joy of the season it can be hard to hold onto the words of John the Baptist as we are tempted to jump straight to the main event. But for others, life is not so full of light this Christmas. Many live in the darkness, longing for the true light to dawn in their lives, weighed down by grief or loss; amidst sickness and personal vulnerability of many kinds, physical disability, mental struggle, personal anguish or even rejection by others, society, community or family. There are so many ways in which people can feel they are physically, emotionally or spiritually out in the darkness.
Despite my personal love of all that illuminates, especially that which enlightens faith, I know that for some Christmas is a time of darkness and a struggle to find some light. John the Baptist reminds us that a time of waiting and preparation is required before God’s gift of eternal light breaks into the world. Our church star, towering above this medieval village, speaks of that very hope, just like the star of Bethlehem which led the way for the Magi to find the Christ-child and worship at the manger throne, so our star calls to this community of Thorpe, reminding all that the light of faith is here for them. But friends, it is our choice to hear the words of John the Baptist and prepare; it is our choice to follow the star and discover the light of Christ in our lives; it is our choice to live in the light of faith. Amen.
1. John the Baptist points to where the light of Christ is.
2. His message has its own integrity, as he helps people prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah. John in his Gospel contrasts the current situation for Israel of darkness with the coming light of the kingdom brought about by Jesus.
3. In Advent there is value for us in preparing for the coming light of Christmas.
4. Allow the child of Bethlehem to be re-born into your life as you choose to live in his light alone.