"Light in the Darkness"

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. [PAUSE]

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 worth knowing.

John says the one coming after him is one who is so great; he would not even be worthy to tie his sandals.

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 still darkness.

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 deliver.

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 dark.

Eventually we will know more about our hope. Our hope will be given a face, a name. We will hear him speak.

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 our hopelessness.

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 eternity.

Read other homilies by Pastor Wade