John 1:6-8, 19-28 

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

The Testimony of John the Baptist

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”[the Christ] 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,

‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”

as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah,[the Christ] nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

There was a period of about 3 years where we literally spent every day together, with maybe just a handful of exceptions.  I loved Robby, and he loved me.  Of course, we were in preschool and and elementary school, so we didn’t use the word “love”.  But, we genuinely enjoyed being together, playing all sorts of games, slaying imaginary dragons, getting the bad guys, riding bikes, and exploring the woods around his house and mine.   

We also thought pretty highly of ourselves and each other!  I remember one conversation at about age 10 or 11.  We liked to compare ourselves to great kings…I was, of course, Richard the Lionhearted, King of England, and he was, of course, Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland…which, was kind of ironic considering his ancestors were English and mine were Scottish and Welsh…but, point being, we thought only of present and future greatness of each other.

We even told each other that the women who would get us would be the luckiest women in the world!  Of course, you may want to ask Debbie if she feels that way…

In those young years, we were pretty certain of who we were…actually, pretty amazing.  It should tell us about the power of having someone believe in you and you in them.  

That friendship with Robbie was especially important when he moved away from Louisville to Berea, KY where his dad became the school superintendent when we were in grade school.  Yet, through that uncertain time, our friendship was not only sustained but it grew.  It helped that his dad and my dad were also best friends and we vacationed together almost every summer growing up.  

That friendship with Robbie was especially important when he moved away from Louisville to Berea, KY where his dad became the school superintendent when we were in grade school.  Yet, through that uncertain time, our friendship was not only sustained but it grew.  It helped that his dad and my dad were also best friends and we vacationed together almost every summer growing up.  

Our gospel lesson in John is set against the backdrop of uncertainty.  First century Palestine was a place of unrest.  There was a recent revolt against the Roman Empire by the Jewish Maccabees.  They reigned for a while, but the might of the Roman Empire eventually crushed them.  Jewish zealots were still active, and there was a Jewish religious and political structure that appeased to a certain degree both the zealots and much more the Roman rulers, as well as trying to maintain the cultural status quo and their place of comfort within it.

And, there was this backdrop of a Messiah, or the anointed one, the Christ, a concept that was in Jewish tradition and in their religious imagination.  A savior that would deliver them from their oppressors, bring justice to those on the margins, restore Israel as a sovereign nation, and place it on a hill, a light for all nations and peoples.  Pretty grand images.

So, the legal scholars and priests come to John, a strange man who had wild hair and a crazy sense of fashion…sounds familiar…and my kind of person!  But, these folks wanted to know if John was the Messiah, the Christ.  Not only were the living in uncertain times, they were uncertain of who John was…and they so wanted to believe that their visions of grandeur would be coming to their nation.  And, if he wasn’t the messiah, the Christ, was he Elijah, the prophet coming to proclaim the coming Messiah?  

Who are you?  They ask.  

John responds.  No, he’s not the Messiah, he’s not the Christ.  But, he does say that he is a voice crying out in the wilderness.  And, that the one who is coming, John is not even worthy to tie his sandals.  John also says that he baptizes with water.  And, we know that baptism symbolizes dying, being buried in the waters…and rising again to life, a new life.  A new identity, one based on the story of Jesus, the story of God, our story.

Friends, we’ve said this before, we are also in the wilderness.  This is an in-between time, not only for our culture, our church, but also, maybe for each of us.  If we are willing to be honest, deep down, we are also searching for a Messiah, the Christ.  

And, we are uncertain about where to look…maybe we look for it in political leaders, or celebrities…maybe it’s something else.  We want someone or something to deliver us.  Maybe the wilderness we are in is deeper than a pandemic, and we can’t find the right vaccine to get us whole.

Maybe we are also asking the question , not “who are you?”, but “who are we?”  “Where are we going?”  “Will we ever get out of this wilderness?”  Maybe we are uncertain if we can or will get out.  Maybe we don’t even know where we are heading or who’s on the journey through the wilderness with us.

At some point, we realize that the worldly systems that we have adhered to, the “isms” that we have put faith in, don’t work as well as they used to, if they worked at all, they are not what God intended.  Maybe we have come to a point that looking for a messiah in someone else or some thing has not given us peace, joy, love, or hope, and we are ready for something to change.  

Maybe it’s time that we, again during this advent season, look to this Jesus that John is pointing to, this Jesus who will come to us with a baptism of Presence, of God self.  

A Presence that brings Love, deep love, love that shapes and reshapes us, Love that stays with us in the wilderness, that walks with us, that struggles with us, a Love that is above and more dangerously beautiful than any ism, politician, celebrity, country, ideal can offer us.  A Love that lasts forever, a Love that cannot be separated from us as Paul talks about Romans.  

A Love that is present in the Christ, exhibited in a God emptying God’s self into a baby called Jesus.  A Love in Christ that God also put into each one of us.  Again, as Paul states, Christ is all an in all things and people in the book of Colossians.  

People ask sometimes in this season randomly, “do you ‘believe’ in Christmas?”  Well, maybe a better question is do you know that the Christ in Christmas BELIEVES in you and that belief is wrapped up in a deep love.

Friends, this Christ believes in you, loves you, and has come, is here, and will come to give you Love.  You already have it!  What are you waiting for?  Cultivate, go deep in the soil of your lives, let God love you unconditionally!  

And, know that love will carry you, even into an uncertain future!

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