December 4, 2011
Advent 2B – with alternate Gospel of John
First Reading Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Second Reading 2 Peter 3:8-15a
Gospel John 1:19-28 The Testimony of John the Baptist
Last week, we began a yearlong odyssey through the Gospel of John by reading the introduction to John, chapter 1, verses 1-18.
That intro, or prologue, is essential to orient our exploration of John the Gospel.
We are blessed with not one but four Gospels, four books in the Bible that tell the story of Jesus from four different perspectives.
In our minds, we often mix the stories from the four Gospels together into one story.
But it is crucial to let each Gospel speak in its own unique voice, and to see Jesus from the Gospel writer’s perspective.
If you were very observant last Sunday, you may have noticed that we skipped a few verses of the introduction to John’s Gospel, verses about John the Baptist that are kind of intrusively pasted into the passage.
Listen again to that intro, this time including those verses (which are in italics below). It’s worth hearing again:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”)
16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
The Word of God, God’s creative wisdom, God’s word of love for creation, is with God, and is God, from before the creation of the universe.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
The Word became flesh, a human being.
But Who is the Word?
Verse 16 says, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
Is it from John the Baptist’s fullness that we have all received, grace upon grace?
No of course not.
It is from Jesus Christ’s fullness that we have all received, grace upon grace.
“Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
After this passage, grace is never mentioned again in the Gospel of John.
And yet, grace is foundational to the Gospel.
The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us as an outpouring of God’s grace.
God’s grace – God’s gift of love, forgiveness, and life – comes to us through Jesus.
God’s truth – the truth of God’s character of compassion for us and all creation – comes to us through Jesus.
Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, Anointed One of God.
So who is John?
He’s not the Messiah.
He’s not literally Elijah the prophet, returned to earth in his fiery chariot to announce the “great and terrible day of the LORD,” as Malachi 4:5 foretold.
He is not the prophet like Moses that was expected to come and lead Israel in a new era (Deut. 18:15-18).
No, John is a voice.
A voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
John prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah by calling the people to turn from sin and turn to God, and by baptizing them, dunking them in the waters of the Jordan River.
John is a witness.
He bears witness to the light that shines in the darkness, the light that is the life of the world.
John testifies that the Messiah is coming.
God’s Word made flesh and pitching his tent among us.
Jesus the Christ.
Hear again words from Isaiah:
A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
The Bible is full of reflections on the day of the Lord, the time when God will come in glory into creation and refine and renew all things, when the glory of the Lord will be revealed to all, when God’s love and peace and joy will reign forever.
The coming of God, says John, begins with the coming of the Messiah.
The Messiah stands among the people to whom John is speaking, but they do not recognize him.
The veil covering the glory of the Lord has started to lift, and we get a glimpse of God’s glory, grace, and truth in Jesus Christ.
As we heard, “[The Word of God] came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…
When John the Baptizer is depicted in ancient paintings and icons, he almost always has one hand up, pointing.
If John were an animal, he’d be a pointer.
He’s always pointing away from himself, pointing to the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.
Hear John’s testimony: the light, the life, the grace, the truth, the Messiah of God has become flesh and pitched his tent among us.
God’s glorious future has already begun in the humble carpenter from Nazareth.
We have a foretaste of things to come.
And, like John, we too are called to be pointers.
We too are called to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.
To live in the light, grace, and truth of Jesus.
To point to Jesus in all we do and all we say.