From Pastor Kenny's Desk
December 17, 2017
“Then came one named John, sent as an envoy from God, who came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through his testimony everyone might believe. He himself wasn’t the Light; he only came to testify about the Light –the true Light that illumines all humankind.
Now the Temple authorities sent emissaries from Jerusalem–priests and Levites–to talk to John. ‘Who are you?’ they asked.
This is John’s testimony: he didn’t refuse to answer, but freely admitted, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ ‘Who are you, then?’ they asked. ‘Elijah?’ ‘No, I am not,’ he answered. ‘Are you the Prophet?’ ‘No,’ he replied.
Finally, they said to him, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you have to say for yourself?’
John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied, the voice of someone crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight our God’s road!’’
The emissaries were members of the Pharisee sect. They questioned him further: ‘If you’re not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, then why are you baptizing people?’
John said, ‘I baptize with water because among you stands someone whom you do not recognize–the One who is to come after me–the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy even to untie.’
This occurred in Bethany, across the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.” John 1:6-8, 19-28
At first glance of this passage we might ask: Is there some sort of an identity crisis going on here? Last week we met the camel hair wearing, grasshopper and honey eating John the Baptist, this week we do a 180 degree turn around and meet a whole different John.
The John in John's Gospel is never called the Baptist. Rather, this is John the Witness. While he is described as doing some baptizing here and there, a careful read of John's story of Jesus' baptism reveals that John does not baptize Jesus. His primary role is not as one who baptizes but one who testifies to the Light coming into the world, a very human witness to a cosmic event. God is about ordering a new creation, a new presence of light in the world but it necessitates a human to point to its presence, otherwise, human as we are, we might not see it. That human is John.
Smack dab in the middle of an out of this world, beyond time and space beginnings of the Gospel of John is John. Interrupting this cosmic birth story, John is first described as who he is not … he is not the light, but came as a witness to testify to the light. Nor is he Elijah from the Gospel of Mark. When asked the question of Who are you? with I am not the Messiah, I am not Elijah. The questioning of John's identity leads to John's adamant denial of what he is not.
He knows nothing but to articulate his identity in connection to Jesus' identity. I wonder … can we make similar claims about our purpose? Can we respond to who are you? with the same indivisibility with God and all that God wants us to be? Can we locate our identity as intimately with Jesus? Can we, as individuals and as a community, see God within us … just the way we are … and at the same time truly believe we are worthy of God’s many gifts of love?
This story of John the Witness also calls attention to a fundamental acknowledgement of the presence and reality of Jesus … The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. What difference does it make to imagine that a first testimony of God becoming human is light in the darkness? This is extraordinarily hard for us to comprehend when light is taken for granted on a daily, minute by minute, basis. What does it mean to testify to the light?
Do we imagine ourselves as witnesses to the light as an expression of God's presence in the world? Do we think of ourselves as witnesses to the light which shines in the darkness?
Further, can we imagine that our welcome of Jesus might be where and how we can shine the light of God's presence into the vulnerability of our fear, pain and difficulties or perhaps bringing hope and justice to the oppressed, comforting the brokenhearted, seeking freedom and help for those who are persecuted and marginalized within our society, and fighting for freedom for those held captive to the realities of stigma and injustice.
John the Witness reminds us of the importance of pointing to even the tiniest light and saying Look, behold, the Promised One, the Light of the world! During this season of Advent waiting and claiming the promises of God, what does it mean to engage in active, life-changing waiting?
Maybe, it’s simply adjusting our eyes to see light, for ourselves and others, when there seems to be none. God calls us to be witnesses like John who point to Jesus and say Look! so that all might know God's promises … the transforming gifts of hope, peace, joy, love and so much more. Perhaps pointing and saying, Look! is our witness to the loving God who is born among us.
Click here and listen to the inspirational song "We Are Waiting."