Who Are You?

December 13, 2020 (Advent 3)

John 1:6-8, 19-28

                If I met someone on the street fitting John the Baptist’s description in the Gospel of Mark last week a few thoughts would come to my mind. Dressed in clothes made of camel hair would single them out right away. It’s not too often you see someone wearing camel hair on the streets in Michigan, though in our winters, I can imagine it would keep you nice and warm. Second, his diet of locusts and honey does not sound appeasing by themselves and surely, he must be some sort of hippy or naturalist.

                We meet a different John the Baptist in the fourth Gospel. To clairfy, John the Baptist is not the author of the Gospel of John. Both individuals just happen to have the same name and were probably born at least a generation apart. John and Mark’s John the Baptist is busy preparing the way for the one who will come after him. In the Gospel of John, he does not stand out so much and his interaction with the priests and Levites clarifies who he is not. Both point to the Christ as being the light of the world and for people to follow him.

                The priests and Levites from Jerusalem long to know who John the Baptist is and what he does. His actions are outside of the realm of their expectations. John’s father, Zechariah, was a priest himself, and John’s actions are not befitting of a priest’s son. You better watch out for those pastor’s kids!

                The questions that are asked of John remind me of the conversations we have with others when we first meet them. Isn’t one of the first questions always asked, “What do you do?” This is an easy go to and conversation starter. I have been asked this too many times to count and I know that I have utilized the question myself. It is easy. It doesn’t require any thinking on our part. I give credit to those individuals that come up with an off the wall title when someone asks them this question. Such as, Beverage Dissemination Officer for a bartender, Digital Overlord for a website manager, Wizard of Light Bulb Moments for a marketing director, or Retail Jedi for a shopping assistant.

                By learning what people do, it helps us categorize them. We can determine roughly how much their salary is and probably their education level. We do the same when we see a person’s house, the clothes they wear, or what they drive. Is this healthy? NO! While a job can reflect a person’s values and interest, that is not always the case. While one of my previous careers was an adult beverage slinger, or more precisely, a sales representative, it did not necessarily reflect my values and interest. Yes, I do like beer, but honestly, I think I drank more beer after I started seminary. The values of the owner and the company itself were far from my values. However, it was a job and it put food on the table for my family.

                While the priests and Levites are busy questioning John, he keeps responding in the negative. He is not the Messiah. No, he is not Elijah. No, he is not the prophet. If he would have answered yes to any one of these, they would have been satisfied and could have reported back who he was.

                The title which should truly make a difference for us and our lives, is Jesus Christ being the Light of the World. We should not be so much concerned with the titles that we are given or the ones that appear on our business cards. What Jesus wants to know, is whether or not we are following his call to be the light for others in the world that have not encountered him yet. Are we letting the light of Christ shine through and illumine our lives so that we too can be a beacon of hope for others that may need it?

                I know that for many of us, the light has been dim over the past several months. It is tough to stay positive and rejoice in the Word of the Lord when it seems that so many things in our world this year have been upended. Advent is a time that calls us back to the beginning of it all for us as Christians. While our gospel lessons so far this Advent have pointed to a time after Jesus’ birth and before the start of his ministry with John the Baptist, we are still awaiting to celebrate and recognize the incarnation that breaks open God’s gracious love for a world that is so much in need of hope and light.

                Hearing Mary’s words of praise in the Magnificat reminds us of the one that John the Baptist is pointing. While Mary finds the words of the Angel Gabriel difficult to comprehend, her praise, “for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed,” starts a litany of the wonders of the Lord and all God has done for creation. It is a crescendo into a birth that will forever change the nature of the world.

                When we get caught up in the details of what someone does for employment, what type of car they drive, the size of their house, or whether they wear designer clothes, we are stepping farther from the Light of Christ. The message John the Baptist witnesses to, reveals the light of Christ. His witness to the light is a reminder to us that nothing else matters. Instead of asking one another “what do you do?”, it would be better in serving Christ by asking, “what are you passionate about?”

                What is it that draws you to the light of Christ that is revealed to us in a newborn baby? And how is it that you are being illuminated by that light and in return sharing it with others?

                Relationships are beginning to matter more than ever as we dive deeper into this pandemic and we can grow spiritually and, in our relationships, as we ask who we are and not become focused on what we do. Let us not get caught up in the material entrapments of the world. Let us come to the manger and discover our identity in the hope found in the light of Christ.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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