Third Sunday in Advent

by Crossings

JESUS: More Savior Than We Bargain For
John 1:6-8, 19-28
(Third Sunday in Advent)
analysis by Jim Squire


6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

NOTE: Let us not ignore completely verses 9-18 as the lectionary does (for whatever reason), but let us ignore them temporarily as a first step. What the lectionary gives us is “the problem” from John the Baptizer’s point of view. Then as a second diagnostic step, let us add in the verses 9-18, which probe the problem to a deeper level.


DIAGNOSIS: Not Knowing the Messiah

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Corrupted Expectations
The Priests and Levites were looking primarily for a specific type of individual who would show them a sign of the coming Messiah. John the Baptizer does not claim to be Elijah (Malachi 4:5) or “the prophet” (Deut. 18:15), but he does claim to be the one Isaiah spoke of (Isaiah 40:3). Nevertheless, they do not recognize his qualifications. His testimony is not credible to them. What is John’s testimony? He “makes straight the way of the Lord” (1:23), baptizes people with water (1:26), and confesses that he himself is not the messiah (1:20). Would we be impressed by such testimony? Forget that we are jaded by all the would-be John-the-Baptizers that abound today. Isn’t part of our ambivalence due to our rejection of the core message? We want someone to reveal Jesus to us in some grand way that is definitive and conclusive, because we would like to be able to prove to others (and ourselves, perhaps?) that Jesus is real.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Subverted Trust
John reveals, or points to the real Jesus, but that is not automatically Good News. For this is the One through whom we (and the whole world – in the Greek, the entire Cosmos) came into being (1:10). The very fact that this One has to be pointed out to us because we did (do) not know him, is bad news. It is a signal of a subverted trust. To know is to be in relationship with, to trust, to believe in. Our relating and our trusting are not with this One, but with other(s). The reason why we go around looking for Jesus to do signs for us is because we long ago decided to “know” someone else instead.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Deadly Curse
And like John’s critics, we don’t find that for which we are looking. The Evangelist calls them “the Jews”, but this is not a general comment about an entire ethnic group. Rather, “the Jews” refers to those who have rejected Jesus. And rejecting Jesus, they (or is it we?) remain in darkness (1:5), powerless to become children of God (1:12). They (we) are stuck knowing in the dark, which is forever dangerous. The Evangelist uses the word Flesh (sarx, in the Greek, as opposed to soma, which means body) to designate this perpetual state of darkness we find ourselves in (1:13). Most critically, this means that we are incapable of being in a good relationship with God, only on the outs.

PROGNOSIS: Being known by Jesus

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: The Curse Overcome
What is our good news, however, is that Jesus the Christ [Messiah] took on our Flesh — when “the Word became Flesh and lived among us” (1:14). What he brings us is glory that is full of grace and truth. This is crucial. It is not power and might as the world understands it that rescues us from the darkness. Rather it is the grace and truth offered to us by our fellow Flesh-ling that overcomes our curse. It is this One, who is close to the Father’s heart (1:17), who pours “grace upon grace” (1:16) on us. He exchanges his light for our darkness, his right relationship with the Father for our wrong relationship with the Father.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Converted Trust
In doing this, Christ has a deep profound effect on us. We could say that he subverts our subverted trust, freeing it from the captivity of the darkness we live in. We are free to trust in the one to whom we belong (1:11). Because of how deeply he is sunk into our Flesh, he is “made known to us” (1:18). We are free to be his, to be someone other than one born “of blood or of the will of the flesh or the will of man” (1:13). Being born “of God” means being able to truly live as God’s own child and as Christ’s own sibling. And this freedom comes to us not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has done for and in us.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Fulfilled Expectations
No longer are we looking around for signs of the messiah, for we know him. But that is not some special membership kudos for us to flaunt as if we somehow are special, nor is it license to become some kind of gatekeeper and test all who would enter according to the truth that we have. No, like John the Baptizer, we are sent back out into the world that is so full of darkness to point away from ourselves and to the One who is to come, who is coming, who is already in the world. True, he is the One whom “you do not know”, but our job is to be a part of how God makes him known to them by pointing to him. We take our cue from John the Baptizer, who faded into the background as soon as Jesus came onto the scene. He is the one who converts people, not us. But we have no need for kudos, for we know the Light and have received an overflowing measure of grace and truth for him, enough to last us a lifetime and then some.

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  • Crossings

    Crossings is a community of welcoming, inquisitive people who want to explore how what we hear at church is useful and beneficial in our daily lives.

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