John 1: 6 – 8 and 19 – 28
Jesus said, ‘No one more important than John the Baptist has ever been born; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’ Amen. Come soon, Lord Jesus!
- Light a candle (or your third candle)
Jesus is the light of the world. A light no darkness can ever put out.
It’s easy for us to picture John the Baptist crying out in the desert, because Mark gave us a great description of him. But if you only read John’s account of John the Baptist, you’d have no idea what he looked like, because the writer of John’s Gospel was much more interested in telling us what the stories told in Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s Gospels might mean and what they tell us about the nature of God through the life death and resurrection of Jesus.
The writer of John points us to the ‘spiritual reality’ of Jesus’ ministry rather than to the signs and symbols of it. John assumes that his readers and hearers will already know the stories about Jesus’ life from the other Gospels.
So, John tells us about the inquisitive Jewish authorities sending a deputation of priests and Levites to ask John the Baptist just who he is! Maybe the authorities wanted to know if he could be trusted, maybe they wanted to give him some credibility, enabling him to be taken seriously.
But John told them, not who he is, but who he is not, contradicting all the ideas the authorities must have been airing when they met, to try and make sense of what John was doing out there in the desert and on the banks of the River Jordan.
So, we learn that John is not the Messiah, he’s not Elijah returned, as suggested might happen by the prophet Malachi, nor is he the Prophet awaited since Moses’ time, as envisaged in Deuteronomy.
But the deputation of leaders is impatient. What can they tell the authorities about John the Baptist?
The enigmatic John replied, like all the other Gospel writers, by telling us that John the Baptist quoted Isaiah 40, verse 3, where it was prophesied, ‘a voice cries out – “Prepare in the wilderness a road for the Lord! Clear the way in the desert for our God”.
And this part of Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled by John himself.
In Bible times, any king traveling into a new land, had men go before him to report, or remove any hazards that might be in the way. He would also send heralds to announce his coming. In the case of Christ, our King, John the Baptist prepared the people of Israel for Jesus’ arrival.
John’s announcement would have caused people to expect someone infinitely greater than him as he turns the spotlight towards someone else, someone coming after him, someone he feels unworthy of, even to untie his sandals.
In answer to the Jewish leaders’ question about why he baptises, John becomes the bearer of good news, and he’s able to move people from the ‘longing’, not knowing when the Messiah will come, to ‘waiting’ for someone imminent. The time when salvation will come is very near, he tells them, so near that, did they but know it, that they could touch him standing amongst them.
John’s message is urgent, he bears the good news that the glory of God and the light of the world will very soon be revealed. John has come, as you read in John’s Gospel, not as the light himself, but as the one to tell people about the light. It’s as if John the Baptist is the lamp, not the light, the lamp who bears the light to the world, the one who bears witness to the light, so that all might hear the message and believe.
In this way John the Baptist is a model of what Christians are to be, and what Christian discipleship is about, testifying to, telling people about and pointing to the inextinguishable light that has come into the world in Jesus.
Like John the Baptist we are to prepare the way, point to the light. bear the light, the good news of Christ – God’s presence in the world, touching our lives in new, unexpected and inexplicable ways.
We are only too aware these days that the ‘message’ is often better than the reality. Television adverts sell us ideas, but the reality of the product is often all too different and disappointing. But John the Baptist message was about something even better than anything he could possibly convey.
People say – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. But what John was preparing people for was so very much better, and it was true.
It’s the same for us, the reality of God’s love revealed through Christ, the light of the world, is still so very much better than any message we can convey…
But that doesn’t let us off the hook. The message about God’s great love story stretches back as far as time itself, and by being prepared to share our experiences of God through Christ in our lives it will stretch as far forward as we can imagine, and further still, as we play our part as bearers of the good news about Jesus, the human and living face of the unseen God.
And we thank God for the ways in which our thoughts about God have changed since Jesus came into the world. People used to think that no-one could look upon God and live, but we know that God is ‘life’ and came among us, as one of us, to tell us that we can have life in relationship with God in abundance.
People thought that God was shrouded in darkness. But we know that God is light, and no darkness at all. And because God is light, we can walk confidently, as though we are in the light, at all times and in all places.