(1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-10, 18-28) J G White
3rd Sunday of Advent, Dec 17, 2017, UBC Digby
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside; He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.
These are the very last words of Albert Schweitzer’s classic 1906 book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, translated into English in 1910.
Jesus comes to us as one unknown. Well, that is how He starts out. We might see this as a theme of John’s Gospel, compared against the other three Gospels in the New Testament. John 1:10 says of Jesus: ‘He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.’ When we get to verses 26 & 27, John the Baptizer is talking. “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.”
As this Gospel tells the story of Christ, we find people such as Nicodemus (chapter 3) and the Samaritan woman (chapter 4) who understand Jesus’ words but not their meaning. From the High Priest and Pilate, to the twelve disciples, Jesus is regularly misunderstood.
Who are you?
Ever meet up with someone and you end up with your own identity crisis? Either you get mixed up about who you met, or someone you met doesn’t know who you are?
Just this week I met a local women who is getting to be a friend of mine, from the garden tours and nature field trips we’ve had. In the grocery store we met, and she said, “Oh, I have been thinking for days I must call Rick Andrews!” She proceeded to tell me a quick story about a bear that visited her camp in the woods this fall, and ate some apples and onions on her doorstep. But she finished by saying, “And… you’re not Rick, you’re Jeff!”
Sharon, remember the time you were in a grocery store, and met our local Member of Parliament, but talked to him about a situation our Member of the Legislature knew about? Oops. You knew it was one of our politicians. 😉
So, it’s about thirty years after Jesus and his cousin John were born. John is preaching and baptizing – not in the temple – out of town by the river. Some of the professional religious came out from the city to quiz John. “Just who are you?” The Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ? No. Elijah, who will come before the Messiah, according to the final verses of the Old Testament? No. That prophet foretold who will be greater than Moses? No.
I am, (here’s a quotation from Isaiah) I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.”
They find out who John the Baptizer is by process of elimination. Who he is not. And John goes on, talking about this One who is about to appear on the scene. In fact, among you stands One whom you do not know.
Jesus is, well, not standing among us, but lying in many mangers among us right now. As I have preached before, He is for many people today X, an unknown quantity. So “Xmas” is really quite appropriate. X is really the Greek letter Chi, and stands for Christ, but not even Xians (Christians) know this. 😉
It is by experience, purely by personal experience, that one gets to know Jesus the Christ. Of course, it can take a lot of time and experience to know God this way. I think I have been blessed to have had, well, 47 years of good opportunities to get to know this Unknown One, born in a barn. Many have fewer chances.
So, sometimes, you and I will be ambassadors for Christ, as the New Testament puts it. Or, like John the Baptizer, we bear witness to the Light we have seen shining. Like testimony in a courtroom, we can tell what we have seen and known. We recognize God in the room, and celebrate.
Who are you? A pointer towards Christ. Occasionally, people see us, and just think it is us, only us, here. Maybe it is, sometimes. But we know at many other times that the Unknown One is among us; God with us, Emmanuel.
I’ll call her ‘Rhonda.’ She moved to Windsor from my home village. I’d known her all through my Schooling. We all knew she was different. In the early 80s people would rudely refer to her as ‘retarded.’ She was loud and excitable and energetic. In elementary school I remember her tackling me in the playground and kissing me!
So, in adulthood she moved to Windsor, and came to us at the Baptist Church. It was a hard transition for her. And it was hard for some to welcome her and help her find her place. In her little country church at home she had been very involved in the ladies auxiliary, but in this new town, the women didn’t know her, probably underestimated her, didn’t know how to have Rhonda join them in their work.
Rhonda had her membership transferred from the little Baptist Church back home to the new big one where I was pastor. And when she did, she wanted to give a testimony – to stand up on Sunday morning and tell some of her life story, her faith journey.
All the Church waited to see what would happen.
She told a beautiful story. She told it beautifully and so honestly. People were deeply touched, in that moment. They were impressed with her. We were impressed with the light that we suddenly noticed, shining! We learned something that day about who Rhonda was, and who Jesus was. And who we were.
‘Who are you, Jesus?’, people may ask. The answers we know we give. We can’t make up anything else. We might not believe all the facts we think we are supposed to believe. What we do experience of Light and Truth, of Pain and Grace, we can share. ‘Who are you, Jeff?’ is also asked. By grace we may answer well, and shed some light.
Writer and activist Jan Phillips, leads, among other things, storytelling workshops. Story-spinning classes.
Jan says: Our stories define us. They affect our well-being, our relationships, our present and our future. They are vehicles of energy. We can harness great power from the experiences of our lives. Our bodies are waiting to be tapped for their wisdom, gained from every ordeal we have suffered or encountered. Every catastrophe has stripped us of something and given us something. The nakedness, we know. The gifts are yet to be unearthed.
Like John, at times, we are witnesses of the Light that comes into the world. At other times, we need to see that Light in others.
Witness Steve Garnaas-Holmes — Dec 14, 2017
John came as a witness to testify to the light.
He himself was not the light,
but he came to testify to the light
The brook is not the light
but it reflects the coming dawn.
The geese are not the winter,
but it falls from their wings.
The wave is not the sea;
the note is not the song;
I am not the light
but I am made of nothing else.
If not to the light within,
bear witness to the dawn.
To the song.
The candle isn’t the sun,
but sings its song.
I don’t have to believe this,
just sing the song.