Lectionary Reflection for the Third Week of Advent, Year B
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. John 1:6-8
Go ahead. Put your gender and name in the verses above. Now read the verses aloud. Do it again. And again. This is real. This is true. You are sent from God to testify to the light so that all might believe in him. In fact, you are sent from worship every Sunday of the year–not just in Advent–to be a witness to the world of the one who came into the world in the days of John, who continues to come into our world in bread and wine, in the Body of Christ, and in myriad ways, faces, and places, and who will come again to bind the cosmos together in the perfect union and intention of the Creator.
We have these two weeks of John the Baptist comprising the meat of our Advent lesson “sandwich,” an emphasis on the one-who-is-not Jesus, a focus on the messenger, on the servant not worthy even to untie a sandal thong. John is an odd one, to be sure, but he is compelling and clear and consistent. We find ourselves drawn to him, engaged in his story. Perhaps it is simple curiosity, but maybe it is more that John is authentic in embracing his own identity and in proclaiming the good news of the one who comes. For whatever reason, folks flock to check him out and stay for his baptism of repentance. This, of course, gets the religious leaders on the scene to see what’s up and to verify John’s identity.
What they get is what he’s not: not the Messiah, not Elijah, and not the prophet. All the things they might expect, John is not. So what is he? He’s the voice that testifies and points to the light. He’s the voice that hangs out in the wilderness places so that folks can believe through his witness and testimony. So what are we to take from John’s witness, from his testimony, and from his example?
First of all, we can take a clue from his timing. There’s a sense of immediacy with John. No time like the present to get lives realigned, to get all eyes on the light of the world, and to blow the assumptions and expectations of the establishment clean out of the water.
And then there’s water–yes, water–the water of baptism that unites us with Jesus who himself submitted to John’s baptism. A river runs through these two weeks of John in Advent, a river of repentance, of forgiveness, and love. Many waters, writes the author of Song of Songs, cannot quench love. Washed in water, walking wet, dying daily to sin and rising to newness of life we are daily refreshed.
Finally, John reminds us of the power and necessity of witness. We are called to point to Jesus, to share the good news so that others may know him. Witness is not passive. We tell the story of what we have seen, heard, and experienced. We disciples of Christ are odd folk, too. We may not look, dress, or act like John, but we run counter to culture yet live fully within it. This is one more paradox and another example of holy tension that requires that we, like John, live more fearlessly.
Yes, John helps us to see more clearly what we are not. In doing so, however, we get an image of what we are and whose we are. Go! Right now, right here, this day. You are sent to be a witness, to point to Jesus, and to tell your story boldly.
This week we add a river to our wall. The first week was the fig tree, and last week was a road. For the river, cut water drops of various shades of blue. Remind the congregation that just as it takes a lot of individual drops of water to fill a river, so it takes a lot of believers across time and space to bear witness to Jesus. We are a great river of witnesses flowing along the narrative of God’s interaction with humankind. We are united in baptism yet we are as individual and unique as each single drop of H2O. Give each worshiper a “drop” of water. Invite them to write their name like this: “Sharron, Child of God.” If they know their baptism anniversary and want to include it, invite them to do so. If they have not been baptized yet, invite them to write a date when they’d like to be baptized. Remind those who have not yet been baptized that scripture reminds us that God knew them before they were born and loves them dearly. Place all the drops of water in the paper river on your wall or drawing.
For the final week, invite people to bring in a photo of themselves or be prepared to take digital photos this week or Polaroid photos next week. The photos will complete the picture for the Fourth Week of Advent.
“Do not quench the Spirit,” says Paul to the church at Thessalonica. Rejoice always, pray always, give thanks always. This is what God wants for us, Paul stresses. Psalm 126 talks about weeping even as one goes out to sow seeds, but later when the harvest comes there is joy. In our world today many tears are being sown as people strive for justice, for equal treatment under the law, for a decent wage, and for enough food, decent housing, and medical care. How can we who have joy be part of the solution so that all people can rejoice? What can we do to keep from quenching the Spirit, whether that be the Holy Spirit at work in our world and lives or the spirit of justice, of peace, and of love? How can we be better stewards of our resources so that everyone many enjoy enough? Consider having youth write letters for Bread for the World or to write letters to their elected leaders to advocate for fair housing, for hunger legislation, or for more equitable distribution of school funding.
John came to point to the light of Christ. He made it very clear that he was not the light himself. We, too, point to the light of Christ. Use the example of the Northern Lights (the Aurora Borealis) caused by a solar flare causing a geomagnetic storm. Show a brief video of the Northern Lights. You can access one here. Invite the children to describe the Northern Lights they see in the video. Ask if any child has ever seen the Northern Lights in the sky. It’s an incredibly beautiful and powerful sight. Tell the children that you can point to and show them these lights, but to really appreciate them, they have to experience it themselves. We can point to Christ and tell people all about him, but until they experience Jesus for themselves, they can’t fully experience the wonder of his love. Our job, however, is to keep pointing to the light of Christ and sharing the story. Share a simple prayer with the children and invite them to draw a picture of what they think the light of Christ might look like.
Photos: Paolo Tonin,Jimmy Paul, and Soumyadeep Paul, Creative Commons. Thanks!)