Pointing to Jesus
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
Finally, they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John 1:6-8 and 19-28
I recently came across a piece of art I was unfamiliar with by an artist named Matthias Grunewald. It is a 16th Century piece of the crucifixion with the three traditional mourners on one side of the cross and John the Baptist on the other pointing to Jesus.
I learned of it as I was reading about the famous theologian Karl Barth. Barth, who was the leader of the German Church's opposition to Hitler and the Nazi Party, had this piece of artwork hanging in his office for decades. He refers to it over 50 times in his writing and almost always points out John the Baptist. Barth vividly notes that John the Baptist is pointing to Jesus "with his prodigious index finger."
Barth then rhetorically asks, "could anyone point away from himself more impressively or completely than John the Baptist did in pointing to Jesus?” Of course the timeline of the characters in the painting is impossible. John had been executed by King Herod long before the crucifixion. However, the meaning behind Grunewald's work is clear. John the Baptist was the one who prepared the way for the one who came after him.
John 1:6-8 and 19-28 are part of the lectionary choices for this week. In these 13 verses I find 11 times where John the Baptist is clear that he is not the Messiah.
No, Nope, Not I... this happens over and over while John takes every opportunity available to point to Jesus as the light: the one true light who is Immanuel—God with us in the very flesh.
Of course, we live in a world that says it should all be about "I." We are given the message that it is about me first. And sadly, for far too many, it is now about me and me only.
Indeed, we live in a world that seems to celebrate narcissism. We see it celebrated everywhere. It even seems to have taken over our beloved carols where the words “O Come Let us adore him” have morphed into “O come let us adore me.”
Yet as disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to follow Jesus into a life of sacrifice. We are to give to the least of these and do so with no strings attached. John the Baptist spent his life pointing others to Jesus. And as Jesus's disciples, that is our call as well.
We do this not by standing statically and pointing but by the choices and actions we make on a daily basis.
Do we pick up the phone and call and check on that one who is struggling or grieving? Perhaps even leave that traditional casserole on the front steps.
Do we pray that that old grudge we are carrying might be released?
Do we give not out of guilt but out of gratitude?
Do we advocate for the least of these by writing our local and state and national representatives?
Do we make worship a priority?
Do we seek to be kind and show mercy?
Do we earnestly work for God’s will to be done?
Do we forgive?
Do we ask for forgiveness?
Do we hope and walk in faith and love?
Folks, like it or not, the truth is we are either pointing others to Christ or pushing them away.
Friends, the excitement of the Advent Season is that in advent we are once again placed in the Christmas story.
We become the innkeeper and we are asked if we have room for the Christ child.
And while saying “of course we do” seems to be so simple, we know that it is not that easy because doing so is costly. It may cost us friendships or business opportunities or money or even our lives.
In fact, following the star to the manger will indeed cost us our lives, but upon arrival we will find the light of the world which promises life and life more abundant than we would ever imagine.
As John says to start his Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
And it was done for us all out of love!
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen.