Last Sunday we met John the Baptist as
the Apostle Mark presents him. Interesting enough the assigned
lections for this Sunday introduce us to John yet again, this
time as the fourth gospel presents John the Baptist.
Last week I stressed John the Baptist
as preparer of the way by means of confession and repentance.
This Sunday we see John as the one who "came as a witness to
testify to the light." John is not the light, but the one who
is witness to the light, a witness to the light that comes
into the world as the Christ.
The Apostle John loves the metaphors
of light and darkness because it presents such stark and
contrasting images. But in his scripture today he doesn't give
a great deal of content, no profound mission or message of the
one who is the Messiah.
Rather the Apostle John sets the stage
for us by telling us in the very first chapter of his book
that the one who is coming after John the Baptist is the
Messiah, the anointed one of God.
Several years ago I can remember
sitting out on the beach one summer evening, there were no
stars, no moon, no house lights. If it weren't for the sound
of the waves and the slight breeze blowing I would have had no
idea where I was, it was that dark. I couldn't even see my
hand in from of my face.
This past week after we lost power in
our home the situation was very similar. It was dark, it was
hard to see.
Have you ever been in a place like
this? It's hard to move isn't it; you're not sure where to
step or what to do next. It's frightening.
And on this particular evening on the
beach I was unprepared, I didn't bring a flashlight.
Eventually I wanted to leave the beach to go back to the house
where we were staying but I wasn't sure which way to go.
I had some sense of where the ocean
was but that was about it.
I stood there in total, utter,
complete darkness. After what seemed like eternity, which
probably was only a few minutes in reality, I heard my friend
call my name, and then I saw a small light off in a distance.
You know nothing tames the terrors of darkness like a friendly
voice and a light.
But those moments standing there in
the darkness, in silence, was terrifying. The feeling of being
all-alone, not knowing what to do next is paralyzing.
Well Israel was also in darkness, the
darkness of political oppression. Judea was occupied by Rome.
These are the people, the people of Israel, upon whom light
has dawned, says John.
But before there was light, there was
a voice. A voice in the darkness, a voice that belonged to
John the Baptist.
All four gospels tell about John the
Baptist yet we get most of our detailed information about John
from Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke tell us that John ate
insects, lived in the desert, and wore camel hair. They
describe what some would call a really strange figure.
But John's gospel tells us none of
this. All the Apostle John tells us was that John the Baptist
was a voice, a witness.
And this is a lesson in and of itself.
What we look like, what we wear, what we eat makes no
difference to God. As long as we are a witness to the truth,
and a voice of God, the rest is just not that important.
People ask, "Who are you?" Some people
think that John the Baptist is Elijah, or maybe a prophet.
John tells them that he is a mere forerunner, that there is
someone coming after him whom they do not know, who will be
John says the one coming after him is
one who is so great; he would not even be worthy to tie his
John the Baptist is also waiting. He
says that the one for whom he prepares is one who is great.
But John doesn't seem to have many details about the one who
is to come.
He doesn't know how this special
person is coming, and he doesn't know when this person is
coming. He only knows that this person's coming will be the
great advent for which people are expecting. Advent is the
time when the church is waiting. It's a time when the church
is sitting in the dark and leaning forward to a hope, which we
don't have, a word, which we don't yet fully understand.
You'll note that many of the hymns we sing during advent speak
of yearning and hopeful anticipation.
Waiting is not easy for us is it?
Waiting is especially difficult when we are waiting in the
dark, when we can't see our way forward, when there is no
reassuring light, and we don't know whether we are going
forward or backward.
We feel so vulnerable in the dark. We
like to be in control. We like to know that we are moving in
the right direction, meeting our goals, getting somewhere.
But in the dark, one is not sure where
one is going. One stumbles and feels helpless in the darkness
of their life.
It's odd that sometimes people speak
of the Christian life as being fulfilling. Now I have found
Jesus. Now I've gotten my life together. Now I've turned
myself over to God, and I'm saved. It sounds like it's all
finished, done, complete, and fulfilled.
But the truth is much of the Christian
life is spent waiting, yearning, and leaning forward to that
which we need, but don't yet have. We say it in this church
every time we celebrate Holy Communion. Christ has died.
Christ has risen. Christ will come again! We call this the
mystery of faith, but it's also our hope isn't it.
It's true that Christ has come, but
there is still waiting. We live in a time we call "between the
times," and we always have. Christ has come, but not in all
his fullness. Light has come into our darkness, but there is
What are we waiting for? Maybe we're
waiting for our life to have some sure sense of direction.
Perhaps we're waiting for recognition
in our work. Maybe we're waiting for just the right person to
come into our life so we can develop a relationship. Or maybe
we're waiting for peace with justice, or for green earth and a
planet free from the prospect of ecological disaster.
When we speak of waiting we often
times speak of it in too negative a sense. Show me a person
who is not waiting, not yearning, not leaning forward,
standing on tiptoes hoping for something better, and I will
show you a person who has given up hope for anything better,
someone who has settled down too comfortably in present
arrangements. And that's sad.
The future belongs to those who wait,
for those who know that we are meant for something better. The
present darkness is not our final destination.
My grandmother, who died yesterday,
knew this very well, and she made sure all her 15
grandchildren, 18 great grandchildren, and 2 great-great
grandchildren did as well.
John the Baptist told the religious
authorities of his day, "Among you stands one whom you do not
know." Some religious people think they know everything. This
was true in John's day and it's true today. John knew what he
didn't know, he was waiting.
To not know the exact shape of his
hope showed the depth of his faith. John was waiting for
deliverance, for something greater than his own efforts could
Beyond our deepest longing and
yearning, this is what we really want as well. Our times of
darkness are vivid reminders that we are really frail,
vulnerable, and needy.
We are the ones who need deliverance.
And our deliverance is something beyond ourselves; someone
greater than our own abilities will deliver us.
John didn't know the complete shape of
the hope he longed for. But John was the prophet of hope,
through his faithful witness. He was a voice, a voice in the
darkness, telling people not to give up, telling people that
their yearning was not mere wishful thinking, that their
longing was an act of faith, a deep abiding belief that God
cared, that God would come and deliver them from the darkness
of the world.
In these Sundays before fulfillment
and at the beginning of John's gospel, nothing is given in
much detail. Here at the beginning there isn't much detail.
Here John explains things poetically in shades of light and
Eventually we will know more about our
hope. Our hope will be given a face, a name. We will hear him
Our hope will be embodied in a man
from Galilee. But not now. Now there is only yearning,
waiting, and expectation.
And John the Baptist blesses this
waiting. John proclaims this is a great place to begin, in
yearning and expectation.
The way to find fulfillment is first
to know that we are not fulfilled. This is an important truth
so let me repeat it. The way to find fulfillment is first to
know that we are not fulfilled.
The way to see the light is first to
admit that there is darkness. It takes a great deal of courage
in a "feel-good-thank you-I'm doing fine-all-by-myself kind of
world" to admit that we do have need.
To dare to hope for and expect the
advent of something better does take extreme courage in a
world where expressing need is viewed as being weak. To know
that something better awaits us takes understanding of truth,
and faith in the one true God.
Victor Frankl wrote a classic novel
entitled "Man's Search for Meaning" which offers a detailed
account of his experiences in a Nazi death camp. Frankl had
been taken to such a camp, after serving as a successful
therapist in his community.
While in the camp, he spent his time
observing himself and his fellow inmates. In fact, his
curiosity, his inner determination to learn and to grow even
in this horrific setting were major factors in his survival.
Frankl noted that some of the
prisoners just wasted away and died rather quickly, even
though they had no discernable physical ailments.
He recalls a man who one day was doing
reasonably well, considering the deplorable conditions of the
prison camp. The man often talked of his dream to get out of
the camp and to be reunited with his wife.
Soon the man received word that his
wife had died in another prison camp. And in just a couple of
days the man died. Frankl concluded that the man died, not
because of some bodily ailment, not because he lacked food or
water, but because he lacked hope.
He had lacked hope that there was
anything to be had beyond the darkness of the bleak prison
camp, that there was anything beyond the present anguish of
the Nazis and their brutality. Frankl concluded that we could
live longer without bread than we can without hope.
We see this happening today don't we.
A person dies and then a short time later the spouse dies. And
often times when this occurs we learn that the second person
to die had lost all hope and sees no reason to live. They
don't see the light in their darkness.
We must have faith that there is a
light that shines in the darkness, a time coming when all will
be well and we will be fulfilled. Through the incarnation of
Christ, light has dawned into our darkness; hope has come to
We gather on this Sunday as a people
who yearn, who desire, who are not yet fulfilled, but who are
confident that no matter what light breaks into the darkness,
a light that darkness will never overcome. And through this
light we will see, we will know, and we will be filled for all
other homilies by Pastor Wade