Sermon Advent 3: “Preach!”

Based on John 1:6-8, 19-28

            During my extremely brief career in theatre, I had one small but memorable role in a church production of “Camelot.”

             I had no lines but one solo – and you heard but didn’t see me as I sang from behind a curtain.

             I played a character called “Nimue” — and it was my job to sing to Merlin and lure him away from King Arthur and Camelot.

            It was a small but important role (I told myself) because it was important for Merlin to be out of the picture for most of the play.

            So I sang my song and Merlin followed the voice.

            I had one job – and then I disappeared.

            I can’t help thinking about this one, small role when I think about John the Baptist in today’s gospel reading.

             John has a small, but important role.

            And who does John say that he is?

            He mostly tells us who he is not – he says – I am NOT the Messiah.  I am NOT Elijah.  I am  NOT the prophet.

            Who is he?  He is… the voice.  He is a voice crying in the wilderness.

            A voice.  That’s what John is.

            Like the voice behind the curtain.  Heard, but not seen.

            He’s not even called “John the Baptist” – just John.

            John the Voice.

            His main job is not baptizing – it’s pointing to the one who is coming after him.

             He is a witness to who Jesus is, and who he will be.  That’s what he does.

            And he is adamant about who he is NOT – because it is so much more important who Jesus is.

            John is standing around talking to the religious leaders when he says it, his witness.

            He says this, “Among you stands one you do not know.”

            That is his testimony.

             Later on he will see Jesus and he will point to him and say, “There he is, the lamb of God.

            The one who takes away the sin of the world.”  But to start, he says this intriguing thing, “Among you is one you do not know.”

            And it seems to me that this is the beginning of our witness, our voice, as well.

            We will end up saying other things, but this is the first truth: among you stands one you do not know.

            Because if Christmas means anything it means this:  God is with us, God is among us, God is here, not absent from us.

            And when I mean “Here” I don’t mean just “in the church” – although I believe and I hope he is here, among us, in our community and our families and working in our personal lives to transform us.

             But he is here – in Montgomery and in Conroe and in Willis. He’s in Grace school, and he’s at Mateley Ranch and Geisinger and Stewart and Lone Star and all of the other schools.

            He’s in the Chamber of Commerce and Fire Station.

            But most of the time we don’t see him or notice that he is here.

            I think that is one of the reasons that churches had steeples, back in the day – to remind people of God’s presence – not just in the church – but in the neighborhood, in the world.

             The church stands as a reminder, but it doesn’t point to itself.       Like John the Baptist – we point to something much bigger than us.

            We stand here, we gather together, and what we say is, “Among you is one you do not know.”

             And then we point to where we see him, and who he is for us.  But in order to do that we need to know where we are see him, we need to stop and breathe and look around.

            That is – in part – what Advent is for.  It is has become a time of year full will activity and preparation, with expectations that are often actually impossible to meet.

            How can we make Christmas, how can WE make Christmas special for everyone this year?

              Will we set the right table, get the right presents, invite the right people?

             Can we make it to all of the places we are expected to be?

            It is just a week before Christmas eve, and the first thing I want to say to you is “among you is one you do not know.”

            And when you are looking around for him this coming week, notice first of all the places of grace.

            Notice the places where you do not need to measure up, where you are known and loved, where arms are open.

            Notice the places where people make sacrifices, where there is mercy abounding.

            Notice the places where there is justice, where people are lifted up, where they are seen and claimed as children of God.

            And tell the world:  “among you there is one you do not know.”

            He is here, and he is here FOR YOU.

            He is here for you, and he is here for the sake of the world.

            He is the light of the world, and we are the ones called to bear witness to the light.

             He is the light of the world,  the one who sheds light on both the shabbiness and the glory in the world.

            He sheds light on our pain, and he heals us.  He sheds light on our sin, and he forgives us.

            He sheds light on our hunger, and he feeds us.

            He is the light of the world, and we are called to see it.

            He is the light of the world, and we are called to preach it.

            He is the light of the world, and we are called to point to it – with our lives, with our words, in our actions.

            Like John.

            It starts with a Voice.  It starts with a voice, and it leads to a life dedicated to making known the Christ who stands among us, unknown.

            It’s a time of year – just before Christmas – when there is more darkness than light.

            Sometimes it seems that way in more ways then one.

            But there is one among us whose mercy is strange, who loves his enemies, whose steadfast love endures forever.

            A few days ago, I saw on television a rare encounter.

             It was between Meghan McCain, John McCain’s daughter, and Joe Biden, the former Vice President

            She was interviewing him about his new book, and she confessed that she couldn’t get through it, because he was talking about his son’s cancer and that is the same cancer that her father has.

            And the Vice President came and sat next to her and told her how her dad had been such an influence on his son’s life and how they had been friends and how there was hope and she should not give up.

             And I caught a glimpse then of mercy and love and bonds that are stronger than death, of what it looks like that God is in the midst of us, God is among us.

            Where do you see mercy?  Where do you see sacrifice?

             Where do you see the hungry being fed, the poor being lifted up?  Where do you see relationships being healed?

            Dear world, among you is one you do not know.

            He is the Lamb of God.  He is the Light of the World.

            He takes away the sin of the world.

            And he calls you:  Beloved.


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