Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Advent - John 1:19-28
As kids we would play this game called “Marco Polo.” I’m sure you’ve played it. Normally it would take place in a pool, or the shallows at the ocean, and one person would be “it.” They would close their eyes and wander around saying “Marco,” while everyone else would say…”Polo.” Good. You know the game. We would try and get as close as possible to the person without being touched while saying “polo.” If you got touched you were “it” and the game would start all over. The “not-its” would have to be daring and quick. The “It” would have to be able to listen. To hear the “woosh” of the water. There also would need to be people, other players, calling out the words. You can’t play the game by yourself. Well, you could but it would be very lonely, and never end.
What we have here with John the Baptizer is another game of “Marco Polo” in a way. This is our second week of John. We had John the Doubter last week. This week is John the Preacher. He is teaching and baptizing. He is speaking in the name of the Lord. Luke’s Gospel account has him give guidance to the various folks of what they should do. He gives them some nice laws fitting with the 10 commandments. Share. Be content with your wages. Don’t steal. Don’t intimidate people. But here, in the Gospel of John, the religious leaders send some folks who come asking him a more important question – Who are you? Are you the Messiah?
He says – No.
They ask – are you Elijah? The one foretold who would come in Malachi 4.
John is modest and says no, although Jesus calls him the 2nd Elijah.
Are you the prophet, the one Moses spoke of in our first reading? Heck no.
They finally become more demanding – If you aren’t the Messiah, or Elijah, or the prophet, who are you?
And what does John say? I am a voice. Just a voice. One crying in the wilderness. Nothing more. Nothing special. Just a voice. John wasn’t known for his elitist stylings or pomp and circumstance. He wasn’t one to toot his own horn. Just a voice.
John cuts through the advice or the search for holiness and breaks it all down and says – I am a voice of one crying. One calling out. We might be screaming Marco until we’re blue in the face but it is there to listen to here the response. Anything would do just fine. Marco Reus. Marco Ramius. Marco Coleman. Marco Rubio. Anything. Just to hear the voice. All that matters for John is that you hear. Hear what he says and where he says it. What it is for. That voice crying out “Into the Wilderness.” Come out of your shells. Come out of your comforts. Your special soft places. The places we craft often to hide. To hide ourselves from God, from others, from our sins. Sins of avoidance. Sins of listening to everyone but the voice we need to hear. Come out from where you think you are safe and come to the wilderness. The place where God will meet you. Where all defenses come down and you meet the Lord prepared for you. Because the desert, the wilderness can be a foreboding place when you are alone. Reliance on any help is needed. You can’t make it by yourself which must be why we hear this calling voice tell us to go there. Where reliance on God is the only way to survive.
My wife, basically since she was born, has been half-blind. She has a detached retina in her right eye. She can’t see out of it. When she would drive, at the beginning of our relationship, I would give directions by pointing. “Turn here.” Well, if you can’t see out of your right eye and you are looking down the road, how well does pointing do if you can’t see the hand? That’s like standing in the pitch black dark, someone asking where the light switch is, and you point “over there.” We laugh at it still but there is a point to this story.
The leaders ask him, “Why are you doing all of this baptizing and preaching?”
John answers them, “Because of who is to come. This one who is more awesome than me is coming. I Baptize and preach to make you ready. To have you hear that you might hear him.” John’s voice has a purpose. To shine bright like the sun. To be the high beams of our automobile to guide us down the road. The fog lamps of life. The GPS we need.
Every Advent we come into this season in need of John. In need of this voice. In need of the light of these words to cry out for us. To call us out of ourselves. Out of all that the world tells us we need. Out of the things the world thinks make us great or more powerful. This Advent we have been dwelling on the different parts of the story, but being faced with the truth of the Gospel. This baby born to die for you. Shepherds terrified at the presence of God in their midst. Angels bringing forth joy to us that we might be ready for him. For the stable. For the manger.
Yes, I know, Christmas messages can become tiresome. Tell me about it. If we aren’t careful we become like a Hallmark Channel Holiday movie. Same plot, different actors. You’ve heard them before - Jesus is the reason for the season. Get in the Christmas Spirit. It is better to give than to receive. Seek his presence more than presents. I can do all those sermons, but instead, how about – leave it all behind. Get rid of everything you have ever done. Allow the voice of one crying in the wilderness to be this voice that directs you to Christ. Where the celebration of Advent becomes this time of preparation before we feast on the day our Savior, Christ the Lord was born. Quite literally looking forward to the day that God comes to earth for you because you were so messed up, he had no choice. He had to come. You were all confused. Driving in circles. Closed off to the voices calling for repentance and turning, so he himself came as the Word into your midst to bring you out of all of that stuff. Bringing you back into the wilderness where there is nothing else but you and the Lord. Christ with you. Among you. In you.
The words of John, of what he steals from the prophet Isaiah were first preached to ones in exile. Telling them – don’t worry. Come out of the city of Babylon. Come out of the Promised land too. Come back to the Wilderness where everything began. Before you thought that God was pleased with you on account of the promised Land or because of how cool or special you were. Come out to the place where all seemed lost and let the Lord guide you through that Wilderness again unto the promised One. Let these next three days be days in which your life gets enfolded into his. Where the shining star of his presence among you and in you will transform you into another voice to call forth others into the same Wilderness to be fed by God. To be led by God. Not because that calling or leading is what makes us better Christians, but as Christians we know that Christmas is all we have of ourselves. Everything else is dead, but this Christ who is born for us. One who came on purpose for you. Thanks be to God. Amen.