Prepared for Jesus' Light
3rd Sunday in Advent
December 17, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
Prepared for Jesus’ Light
John 1:6–8, 19-28 (NIV84)
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” 21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” 24 Now some Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” 28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Do you like the light? I suppose it depends on the situation. Do you like bright lights on when you first wake up or would you rather pull the covers over your head and hide from the light a little longer? On the other hand, most like the light of the sun when it breaks through the clouds on a dreary winter day....unless you are driving and the sun reflects off all the white snow and makes it very difficult to see. Sometimes we love the light and sometimes we avoid the light. The author of the Gospel of John, the apostle John, loved to use the word, “light” to describe spiritual things. In today’s scripture reading, he tells us about another John, the Baptist, who is a witness to the light and that light is Christ. Therefore we prepare for Jesus’ light. We do this with humility before the Light and with confidence in the Light.
With Humility Before the Light
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” 21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”
Last week we read about the great crowds of people who made the long journey on foot to hear John’s message. They did not come out to the Jordan River because of John’s fine clothing or amazing diet tips. They came to hear a message from God. They came to repent and receive forgiveness through baptism. They came because no one like John the Baptist had been in Israel for a long time. It had been centuries since the last true prophet of God was active in Israel. In a way, the people were in spiritual darkness. They had the Old Testament but had not heard directly from the Lord for centuries. But now God had sent John to prepare the people for Jesus’ arrival. John became well known in a short time. He was a light that drew a crowd.
It would have been tempting for John to enjoy his moment in the spotlight. It would have been easy for him to get a big head and think he was really something special. After all, look at all the people who came so far to hear him preach. How easy it would be to let the people think what they want about him. If they think he is Elijah, so be it. If they think he is the Prophet to come like Moses prophesied, so be it. If they think he is the Christ...well, maybe not that far.
How easy it is for all of us to get puffed up with pride when we are doing something well. A compliment can be turned into pride by our sinful nature. “Good sermon pastor.” And the pastor thinks, “It was pretty good, wasn’t it. I really knocked it out of the park today. This congregation is lucky to have me and so is God.” Maybe someone thanks you for helping with something at church. “I really like how you did…..” “I do a good job, don’t I? Without me, nothing would get done.” Someone sees you handle a situation with your children well and says, “You are a great mother.” And the thought goes through your head, “Better than most.” Or maybe it is the lack of a compliment that makes us turn the spotlight on ourselves. “Doesn’t anyone know how hard I’ve worked or what I’ve given? I deserve more credit.”
Anytime a light gets shone on us for something good we have done, there is a danger of us enjoying the attention too much. We take the credit instead of shining the light on Christ, the true Light of the world. John humbly confessed that he was not the One they were looking for. He was not Elijah. He was not the Prophet Moses foretold. Moses was pointing to Jesus. And John tells them he is certainly not the Christ. Take the spotlight off of me and look to the Christ who is already among us and about to begin his ministry.
When the bright light that is Jesus shines on our lives, it has two different effects. First, it humbles us and then it gives us confidence.
When I get dressed in the morning, I do a much better job of matching everything when the lights are low. But as soon as the lights are fully on, I might have to switch shirts or ties. The light reveals the true colors. And why do lights over bathroom mirrors have to be so bright. If those lights were dim, I would even see the food stuck between my front teeth or the hair out of place or the toothpaste on my cheek. Turn those bright lights on and you see every tiny blemish.
The light of God’s Word also reveals every spiritual blemish we have. We might be able to cover up our blemishes so others don’t see. We can hide our sinful wounds and the mess we are inside because of sin from people around us. But when exposed to the light of God’s holy law, we see our sinful nature in full detail and it is ugly. John understood this about himself and was sent to prepare the way for the Lord. He did this by exposing our sin so we are humble before the true Light of the world and are ready to receive the good light he will give.
With Confidence in the Light
He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.
John the Baptist had confidence in his place in God’s kingdom. He was a messenger and pointed with confidence away from himself and to Jesus and the Light of the world. John was confident that Jesus was the Christ, his Savior and the Savior of all people. We who live today are part of the all people that John wanted to reach with his testimony about Jesus. He wanted all to believe and be saved.
Jesus says later in the Gospel of John, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The darkness of sin and death are banished for those who follow the Light, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ ministry was with a single focus, to save those lost in the darkness of sin. Isaiah tells us the mission of Christ in our Old Testament lesson:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1)
He had many opportunities to deviate from that plan. As his fame grew, he could have gathered a great number of people around him ready to fight to establish an earthly kingdom. Jesus kept on track. He shone with the light of God on Transfiguration and his disciples wanted to stay in his heavenly light. Jesus came down the mountain, setting aside his outward display of glorious light. Jesus could have been the center of attention of the Roman world if he came down from his cross on Good Friday and destroyed all his enemies. But he allowed darkness, both physical and spiritual darkness, to reign that day. And when all seemed lost, when the Light of the world lay dead in a tomb, he broke forth in glorious light again by rising from the dead.
This is our confidence, in the Light of the world who died and rose to declare us not guilty of sin. Our confidence is found in Jesus, who forgives us for our dark thoughts and deeds. Or confidence is in the Savior born for us at Christmas who is now ascended to the right hand of God and is preparing our place in heaven. There, we will not need the light of the Sun and we will not fear any darkness because the Lord will be our Light forever.
At Christmas, we especially like lights. We light up the church inside and out. Many put lights inside and outside of their homes. We light Advent candles and on Christmas Eve will light the Christ candle to signify that the Light of the world has been born. John testified to this Light long before strings of Christmas lights were invented. May we continue to have confidence in and testify to Christ, our Light and our Salvation, long after the Christmas lights are put away again this year.
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