Third Sunday of Advent
We live in a world where people often pretend to be something which they’re not.
We’ve all read stories in the newspapers or even heard television reports of men and women who’ve pretended to be a qualified surgeon or lawyer, or maybe a teacher, but who were actually nothing of the sort. Sometimes they get away with it for a long time, and perhaps it’s not until something awful happens that they’re exposed as imposters. But of course, by that time it’s often too late, and somebody will have suffered.
On a smaller scale I guess that lots of us have probably hidden things on an application form for a job. Something which we felt might work against us if the truth were known. Perhaps our age, or the real reason that we left a job. And so, maybe we should look at ourselves before we criticise others, or at least try to understand why men and women so often want to appear to be something which they’re not.
Now, this certainly isn’t a criticism which we could level at John the Baptist, is it? When the Jews asked him who he was; when they were thinking that perhaps he was the special person that God had promised to send, he could easily have said “Yes, that’s just who I am; so you’d better buck your ideas up and follow me.”
He could have said that, and no doubt, if he’d done so, he would have generated a big following. He would have become the leader of a very popular movement. But John wasn’t going to claim anything which wasn’t true. He told people that he wasn’t the leader for whom they were waiting. In fact he went on to say that the leader for whom he was preparing the way, was far better than anything he could be. John claimed to be a sign post, pointing the way to the truth; and he refused to pretend that he was that truth.
You know, there’s a lot we can learn from John. First of all we must recognise that it’s not the Church which is the way and the truth and the life. So when the Church or her children begin to think like this, well, they’re making a mistake. The Church is important because it points the way to Jesus, whom we exist to serve. Therefore, everything we do should be a signpost or a pointer to him; just like John the Baptist.
John admitted he wasn’t the way; and the Church must always do the same. You see, it’s very easy to get in the way of the Christ to whom we should be pointing, and the Church must constantly check that she isn’t doing just this.
Isn’t that awful? The Church which exists to point people to Jesus actually sometimes puts them off. And one of the ways she does this is through congregations who exclude people. Congregations who are particular about who is welcome in church and who, on the other hand, might be tolerated, but really isn’t the kind of person whom church needs!
So perhaps on this third Sunday of Advent we should remember that John the Baptist pointed beyond himself, to Jesus and called him the “lamb of God”, the one who “takes away the sins of the world.” And that means the sins of the whole world, not just our little bit of it.
The light that shines through Christ should show us that we’re all children of God. And this means that people we don’t understand or even like are also children of God. Whether they go to our church, another church, a different tradition, no church, or even a different faith, they are God’s children.
I know this is difficult. Believe me, I know how easy it is to put a label on someone and to criticise them because you feel that they’ve missed the point of their faith. I know, because I’ve done it and it makes me ashamed. And of course, the irony of being critical like this is that when you do so, it shows that you’ve also missed the point, and stand in need of God’s grace and love. So maybe the recognition is a good thing.
John the Baptist recognised a true light which was coming into the world, a light which was for everyone. Later in the glow of that light, Peter and Paul recognised that God loved people who weren’t Jews, as well.
That same light glows in our world and is teaching us that God loves the very people we love to hate, whoever they may be. Whether they’re those horrific terrorists, the noisy neighbours up the road, or that difficult person across the aisle who seems intent on making your life as complicated as possible!
God loves them; and when we try, perhaps against all the odds, to love them too, well then, by God’s grace we also become a sign that points the way to the light of the world.
A sign which points the way to Jesus. Amen.