John 1:6-8, 19-28
“He himself was not the light, but he came to bear witness to the light.” (John 1:8)
By his ministry, his teaching and the way he lived, Jesus was constantly making people think again about their faith, their lives and how they treated each other. According to Jesus the first would be last and the last would be first; children and women were to be treated as equal to men; lepers and those who were ritually unclean were not to be excluded from community and eternal life could only be gained at great personal cost, perhaps even at the cost of one’s earthly life.
This upside down vision of the kingdom of God seems to start even before Jesus begins his earthly ministry. We see John the Baptist resisting being identified as a prophet of the people of Israel. Instead he declares only that he is a voice preparing the way for the imminent arrival of one who is far greater than him. In spite of his power to draw people John insists that it is not he who is important but the one who follows.
There has clearly been much speculation about John who is attracting large crowds of people to hear him speak and to receive his baptism. Rumours about John have reached Jerusalem and religious leaders there send priests and Levites to investigate.
They come to question John with three possibilities in mind, any one of which, if it were true, would have world-changing significance for the Jewish people.
Is John in fact the longed for Messiah himself? .
Is he Elijah returning, as was expected, to herald the coming of the Messiah?
Is he the Prophet promised by Moses who said “the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you … him you shall heed”.?
When John, with increasing abruptness, denies that he is any of these the Jerusalem delegates demand to know who he is and why he is baptizing since baptism in the Jewish faith is only for proselytes – gentiles who wish to join the people of Israel.
Now we hear John’s testimony about himself: he’s the voice foretold by Isaiah, calling out to people to prepare for the coming of the Lord. John diverts attention from the ritual of baptism to the Lord who is to come. He is so much greater than John that John does not consider himself worthy even to perform the duties of a slave for him. Furthermore John says that this great person is already among them, as yet not recognised.
It’s not an answer the Jewish leaders are going to be comfortable with. We know that they will in future reject John’s teaching just as they question and reject the teaching and actions of the One who comes after John. Controversy around the identity of Jesus begins before he even appears on the public stage of history.
We too hear John’s voice calling the world to prepare the way of the Lord and there is perhaps a danger that we may be tempted not to take his words to heart. After all, John himself was preaching over two thousand years ago and his words are not directed at us.
If we could approach John himself and ask him if this was the case he may well give us a reply as startling as the reply he gave to the priests and Levites from Jerusalem. Like them, we would then have to decide whether we are going to accept or reject his reply.
John said that the one who was to come was already among them although not recognised. Imagine John standing here today and saying to us “the Lord is already among you although you can’t recognise him”.
We might want to spend time thinking about what difference that would make to the way we see each other, the way we speak to and treat each other. We might consider what sort of community we would build if we believe that any one of us could be our Lord, the thong of whose sandal we are not worthy to untie.
If John did speak to us in that way it would not be a new message, Jesus himself said that whatever we do for the most humble of people we do for him. The difference might be that in John’s urgency and passion we might hear that message in a new way and act on it in new ways in order to prepare the way of the Lord who is already among us.
1. The preaching of John the Baptist causes speculation about the possible coming of the long awaited Messiah.
2. John describes himself not as a great leader or prophet but as a voice delivering a message.
3. John still delivers his message to us, to prepare ourselves for an encounter with our Lord who is already among us.
Let us pray to God, our loving Father, who sent his Son into the world to lighten its darkness and to bring new hope and life into its despair and suffering.
We pray for the church of Christ in this Advent season. We pray that her voice may be heard proclaiming the word of the Lord; preparing the way for his birth to be celebrated once again and witnessing to the one true light of God shining throughout the world.
We pray for the leaders of all nations and all faiths that they may seek ways of truth and light and the healing of the divisions and conflicts which spread their darkness over all the world.
We give thanks for our communities, our families and friends and pray that God’s love will be born again in our hearts and lived out in our relationships with each other.
We pray for all who are suffering physical or mental illness and pain; for all who are oppressed by violence or imprisoned by poverty or injustice. We pray that God’s good news of healing and release will bring new hope and life into their hearts and minds.
Almighty God, our loving Father, receive our prayers and bless us with a spirit of joyful trust in your power to bring hope and light into even the darkest places around us and within us. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, the true light of the world. Amen.