Sermon for Year B, Advent 3
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
December 14, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
In and among the crowd there are those who seek to sniff out what’s going on with John.
They come with the backing of the intellectual and religious elite. They’ve been sent by the best.
They want to know who John thinks he is. They don’t pay any mind to who might have sent him.
“Are you the Messiah?” “No.”
“The prophet?” “No.”
Well, look, who are you, anyway?
Because we can’t have come all the way out here and then go back emptyhanded.
Our per diem for this trip will not be justified if we can’t offer a straight answer to our handlers.
That’s not how things work.
His reply: “I’m the voice in the wilderness.
I’m the guy who’s telling you to straighten things out --
That something big is about to happen.”
Charles Spurgeon pointed out that “John does not say ‘I am the Word,’ but ‘I am the voice.’
Christ is the essential Word;
We are but the voice to make that word sound across the desert of human life.”
John the voice, not the word.
But. They said, Look, that’s way too vague;
If you don’t have any credentials, then why are you baptizing people, anyway?
And John said, Look around, folks.
For among you stands someone who is the entire reason I came out here to do all this,
To say all these things.
All my work simply exists to draw attention to him. And he’s among us.
Let the reader and listener understand.
In the crowd is Jesus:
Who, for whatever reason, is unprepared to come forward at this point,
Either to receive the sacrament of baptism
Or to come right out and say who he is.
Someone who’s holding back at this moment.
I don’t think most people just wake up one bright morning
And decide to to into the prophecy business.
For John at least, the pay is nonexistent, the hours are bad, the food is weird,
The uniform is terrible, and the job sites are hard to get to and hazardous to work in.
What in the world would make him do what he did?
Perhaps it was because he had seen traits of Messiah
In someone who had been close to hand for some time, and he needed to tell.
In the great run-up to Christmas, we seem to forget this one fact:
That Jesus and John were cousins;
That John’s mother Elizabeth was a cousin to Jesus’ mother Mary.
That in fact, when Elizabeth’s pregnant belly got close to Mary’s pregnant belly,
The as-yet unborn John “leaped for joy” in the womb.
The baby kicked, in other words.
They were about the same age, in the same family, in the same relative neck of the woods.
The prophet of the Messiah and the Messiah himself.
It’s not a conspiracy. It’s not dumb luck.
It’s divine timing and divine location. It’s a God thing. It’s the power of incarnation.
Have you ever had the privilege of seeing the potential in someone very early on,
A special kind of light or ability or charisma,
And as the years went on, you began to see others recognizing it as well,
And after a while, it wasn’t a secret at all anymore,
And you had the satisfaction of having been there all along?
There’s the feeling of perhaps pushing that someone in the right direction,
Maybe helping to shape him or her in some way,
Knowing that whatever it was about that person would made the world a better place
Once it had been called forth and brought to bear.
Perhaps there’s tremendous relief when others finally know what you’ve known all along.
John saw that light in Jesus, and he wanted the rest of the world to know it was there.
So he went out and he did his strange work in the desert,
And one day he saw his cousin standing on the bank of the river.
After thirty years of watching Jesus, John must have been thinking
Of how close things were to really changing at that point. Finally.
What a relief.
In fact, in John’s story, for the next two days, John will see Jesus standing at the river
And will point him out clearly,
Saying, “Look, here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
And it will be that pointing and that pronouncement that cause two of John’s followers
To take a much closer look at Jesus, and to start following him instead.
One of those men will be Andrew, brother of Simon.
And as soon as Andrew gets the picture, he’ll run and go get his brother.
And Jesus will take one look at Simon, and he will say,
“You’re Simon, but I’m going to call you Peter.”
The next day they’ll all go to Galilee and add Philip and Nathanael to their ranks,
And it’ll start to snowball from there.
We know it very well indeed. Jesus will become a movement in itself.
The movement of God across the face of the earth,
And the movement of people who must continually stream to him for healing.
John, of course, keeps on with his work.
Once enough people have seized upon his pronouncement about Jesus,
He goes on to criticize Herod for divorcing his wife,
And he ends up in prison,
And in a moment of greed, wanting to be a big man in front of his friends,
Herod makes good on a promise to behead John.
And that’s enough to send Jesus into a tailspin for a while.
An end that doesn’t seem fair somehow for John,
But at any rate that’s how we have received it.
So they do go on, each to his own work, each on his own trajectory.
But this one small moment must be both delicious and frightening for John:
“Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
The most important words he will ever say.
I don’t think you can blame people for not being able to recognize what’s in front of them
If they don’t have the ability to see it.
Sometimes it takes a catalyst -- an agitator -- a person who can name something clearly --
A person or a thing or an event that kicks it off
And gets everyone to see the situation a little differently.
Someone who pulls back the sheet.
The question, which we visit every year about this time, is simply this:
Once the proclaimer has done his work
And we have some understanding of what’s happening,
And just who it is who has come among us --
Once all that has happened,
Do we have it within ourselves to really and truly be shocked by the news?
Or have we heard the news so many times that we have become immune?
Because this isn’t just some news.
This is the news.
God has tried to make every kind of covenant with humanity,
And humanity has broken every kind of covenant with God.
It seems like an impossible situation.
But this man standing on the bank of the river --
This man who John calls the Lamb of God --
Is going to lead the way so that we can see and live that covenant in a new and exciting way.
In him we will be restored to new life,
And in following him from ministry to persecution to death and back to life again,
We will have all our assumptions tested and will see everything change.
So come quickly, Lord Christ.