Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent

Text: John 1:19-28
Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ĎWho are you?í (verse 19).

Waiting with Open Eyes

I was standing in line at the Post Office a few days ago waiting to be served. It was a long line and didnít seem to be moving. A mother with two restless small children standing behind me muttered something. I turned to see the exasperation and frustration on her face. She told me that on the way to the shops she had to stop for petrol and had to wait ages to get to a bowser. Then she had to join a long queue at the checkout at Target, and it took forever to get through (because of a price check), and now she was standing in this long queue. She finished with a sigh, "Iím so fed up with waiting in lines. Why does Christmas have to be like this?" I agreed with her sentiments because I was about fed up with long lines as well.

That got me thinking. Christmas has always been about waiting. Maybe not at supermarket checkouts and waiting to buy stamps at the Post Office but the whole waiting thing has been a strong emphasis in the church for 2,000 years in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Weíre waiting, like those Thessalonians to whom the apostle Paul wrote. They expected Jesus to return again soon, but while they are waiting they are encouraged to wait with thanks and blameless lives.

Weíre waiting in these days of Advent for a God who will come to us and set things right in our world, cure what ails us, intervene and move in our lives.

We are waiting for Christ to return when he will raise the dead and take us all to live with him in eternity. We are waiting just as the people of Johnís time were waiting the advent of the Messiah.

And so we hear of people expectantly surging out into the wilderness to hear John the Baptist announce that at last the time had come to end all waiting. "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ĎMake straight the way of the Lord,í said John, seeing himself as the person whom Isaiah the prophet had spoken about many centuries before. God at last is coming, among us, to rescue us, to be with us. John warned that this coming would happen soon and that they had better be ready for it.

John the Baptist spoke about the coming Messiah and how he had been sent to bear witness to the coming Light. People get a bit confused about who John really is. Is he a prophet, maybe Elijah, or even the Messiah himself? John sets the record straight. He is not the Christ; he has come to bear witness to the Light. John makes it clear that he is the one who Isaiah spoke of when he said that a messenger would come calling out in the wilderness, urging people to straighten out their lives.

You would have thought that Johnís clear testimony about the coming of Christ and that he is the one who had come to prepare the way would have immediately given the religious heads from Jerusalem the message that the Messiah was coming soon. They had been waiting for just this messenger who would announce the advent of their Saviour. But the problem was, to put it simply, they werenít able to see it.

And itís not because John was a boring preacher. One could almost excuse the authorities from Jerusalem for dismissing John if what he preached was uninteresting and dull. But John was anything but a dry and boring preacher. Josephus, the Jewish historian who lived in the Roman era and was not a Christian wrote: "The crowds about him ... were aroused to the highest degree by his sermons. Herod became alarmed. Eloquence that had so great an effect on mankind might lead to some form of sedition ...". John was obviously a powerful speaker and we know from the gospel accounts that John pulled no punches. He said it like it was regardless of what rank or authority his hearers had. His message was the same for one and all. "Get ready for the advent of the Messiah! Turn away from your sin. Someone is coming who is far more important than I". He went on to say that he wasnít even worthy of doing a slaveís job like untying the sandal straps of the one coming. No one could question Johnís humility.

And so, we find in our text today, an almost humorous exchange between John the Baptist and all these bigwigs, biblical scholars, and religious authorities from Jerusalem who come out to hear him. "Who are you?" they want to know.

Behind the story, I think, is the ironic observation that, if we canít even figure out who John is, as the forerunner of Jesus, how in the world will we figure out Jesus!

And when Jesus finally came, the true Light that was foretold by John, the people failed to see him.
Why didnít they recognise him?
Itís not that this whole messiah thing was a completely new thing to them - they had been promised a saviour since the beginning of time.
Itís not that they werenít waiting. They had been waiting for centuries.
Itís not that they didnít know what God had said to them in the Bible. Most of them knew the Scriptures off by heart and could quote passages without any hesitation.

Perhaps they were so busy pouring over the verses in their Bibles that the scholars and their students failed to look up and see Jesus standing in front of them.
Maybe people were looking for the wrong type of Messiah - a general on a war-horse, a king with greater splendour that King David himself, not a carpenter's son from Nazareth.
Maybe people were a lot like you and me, they were just too busy, too preoccupied with this and that, too bust preparing for Christmas that they managed to miss Christmas when it finally came.

So here we are again, awaiting the advent of Jesus into our lives.
We are waiting for Jesus to come again on the Last Day.
We are waiting to celebrate the Christmas festival, welcoming Jesus into hearts and lives afresh as our Saviour and Lord.
But like the people in Jesusí time, we are also in danger of missing Jesus.
They knew Jesus, they knew what kind of person he was,
they knew where he came from and what he said,
they knew all the prophesies and promises,
but they still couldnít figure him out. They couldnít see him as their Saviour and Lord.

We are in danger of doing this again. We know all about Jesus. We know the promises and the prophecies. We know who Jesus is, what he did, what he said, how he died on the cross and rose again. We know all that - but we are in danger of missing to see him as our Lord and Saviour. We are in danger of knowing the Christmas story so well, that we fail to see Jesus.

There was a student who was taking a course in Italian Renaissance Art. He said he loved the course, but also the course had made him sad.
"Sad?" He was asked.
"Yes, sad. You see, I spent nearly a year in Italy on an exchange scholarship. I was taken to all the great art galleries in Italy, saw all the great paintings. And yet, because I didn't know what to look for, I didn't see a thing"

We can get to the end of Christmas season full of wonder and joy at the wonderful celebrations we have had, but in fact we didnít see a thing. We missed out on the true wonder and joy of Christmas; that this is a celebration of God become a human for us.

If you only had one light on your Christmas tree then it would stand out, and everyone who looked at the tree couldnít help but notice the light it was giving. But put that light in amongst a whole string of lights on your tree and it no longer stands out. The light it gives is overwhelmed by brightness of all the other lights.

If you want to see the stars on a clear night, you must get out away from the light pollution of the city, the street lights, the neon advertising lights, the Christmas lights on houses and shops. You must go out into the countryside where it is very dark. Then are you able to see the fragile light of the stars. Then you will be able to see the millions of stars that you have never seen before, sending their light into our world. Maybe the light that comes into our world in Jesus, that light to which John says he was sent to testify, is so fragile that we must get away from the hum-drum, daily course of things, sit silently, pray, wait, in order for our eyes to be able to see.

Itís true, that you and I, regular worshippers here at church, people who know Jesus and like to see him as our daily companion in our walk through life, can be so overwhelmed with the hum drum of daily life that we donít see the Light. Itís like trying to look at the stars in the middle of the floodlit Gabba* oval.

We can be so overwhelmed with the preparations, the gifts, the food, the receiving and giving, and holiday plans in the lead up to Christmas, that we donít see the brightness of the true Light, Jesus, because of all the light pollution around us. Maybe the only way to see the fragile light of Christ dawning among us this Christmas, 2,000 years after its first dawn, is to admit that we are so blinded by other lights that we canít see his light.

Thatís what Johnís message was all about. Get ready!
Letís face it - we are dazzled by all that goes with Christmas.
Letís face it our focus on making this Christmas one of the best family get togethers,
our reverence for Christmas traditions and customs,
singing our favourite Christmas carols like golden oldies form the past, the decorating of the Christmas tree,
the getting of Christmas mail from all of our friends and relatives and catching up on the news of the past year,
the giving of gifts, all this, and more,
can dazzle us to the extent that we donít see the true Light of Christmas, Jesus our Saviour. Every one of us is guilty of being dazzled by the Christmas festival. All of us can get so caught up in the customs, the traditions, the memories of past Christmases, the preparing and the getting, that we need to turn to God again and ask him to forgive us and help us to focus on the true Light.

Todayís message from John is both a joyous announcement and solemn warning. The announcement ĎRejoice! God is coming among you now, to touch your life and make you wholeí is accompanied with the message ĎBeware! The advent of God among us can be so fragile, so wondrous and delicate, so strange and ordinary, that itís possible we might miss it.í

So our Advent prayer is,
"Lord God, give us the eyes to see the true Light of Christmas as the light of our lives. Amen."

* sports ground in Brisbane

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
11th December, 2005

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