This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” (Read the whole passage)
Prepare the way of the Lord!
I am not the Messiah!
Each week of Advent seems to brings a them of waiting and preparing with it. Each week taking us closer to the coming of Messiah, even in the midst of all the darkness around us.
We have now crossed into the back half of Advent. We started the season by hearing Jesus proclaim the end of time, to keep awake for God’s coming. Last week, we heard the beginning of the good news, we heard of Mark’s straight the point interpretation of the incarnation, the in flesh God among us.
Today we hear the Advent twist on the story of John the Baptist. And for that we take a little detour from Mark’s gospel, to the gospel of John. John the Baptist is a familiar, if not odd, figure from the Gospels. A wild hermit preacher dressed in camel hair furs, eating locusts or giant grasshoppers for food. And for the people of ancient Israel, John fits the profile of a prophet, one sent to preach God’s message for the people.
And as John is preaching, teaching and baptizing in the desert, the authorities take notice. The priest and levites, the religious authorities send representatives to find out who this hermit preacher, this potential preacher is.
And so they ask, ‘Are you the Messiah?” A loaded question, a question about their expectations. Is John the one who has come to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven, the one who to destroy the enemies and oppressors of Israel, to establish a divine Jewish kingdom on earth.
But John says, “I am not the Messiah”
And so they ask again, “Are you Elijah?” Is John the one who will herald the end, the one who is the precursor, the advance party, the warning shot of the Messiah.
But John says, “I am not.”
And so they ask a third time, “Are you the prophet?” Is John the prophet like Isaiah, maybe not the one who will establish the Kingdom of Heaven, but at least establish a new, powerful, and restored-to-former-glory Israel.
But John says, “No”
The Levites, Priests went to hear John the Baptist preach on the banks of the Jordan with expectations. Expectations about who he might be and what he might bring into their world. The were worried about the disruption he might cause, the over turning the of the status quo, the systems of power that privileged a few and caused suffering for many.
The crowds too went to hear John preach with expectations. Expectations about who he might be and what he might bring into their world. The hope and light he might reveal, the overturning of the established orders, the oppressors who kept the people under their thumbs.
And we too might hear John with expectations today. Expectations about who he might be and what might bring into our world. Expectations that our current circumstances can be undone, that there is some quick fix for our current predicament on its way to us.
As our community, as our world, as we hunker down for a Christmas like none before, it is hard not to be longing for things the way they used to be, for things to go back to normal, for even a little reprieve from restrictions and orders that are keeping us from the Holidays as we know them. From celebrating with family and friends as we usually do, as we have been desperate to do for months now.
And our expectations and hopes are only pushing towards disappointment and resentment.
And here as we wait for Messiah, halfway through Advent, expectations are everywhere. And while normal Advent and Christmas expectations centre around a lack of time and energy, about family gatherings going sideways, about creating perfect memories… This year we wait for things like case numbers, test positivity and hospitalizations to drop, for vaccines to be distributed and something that looks even a little bit like normal life.
In 2020, we come to the John, asking he is the Messiah in a world that feels, at times, not too different than the world of those people standing on the banks of the Jordan, listening to John the Baptist. We see darkness, suffering, struggle and hardship in new ways. We understand being powerless and hoping for change in new ways. We know what it means to be waiting and focused on salvation like never before.
And we come too, wondering if John the Baptist can tell us something about dealing with all of this.
And John says, “NO”
Instead John says, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”
And that voice in the wilderness is not the Messiah. This desert preacher is not the Messiah, he is not the one who will solve our problems, he is not even the one who to whom we should be looking. John the Baptist is simply a messenger.
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.”
But John is pointing elsewhere.
Revealing someone else.
John is here to tell the Pharisees and Scribes and crowds… here to tell us that there is another who is coming. There is one coming who will address injustice, oppression, suffering and death. There is one coming into our world who is God in flesh – God with us. And this one, this Messiah is coming to change the world in ways that we cannot imagine, who will transform us beyond our wildest expectations, who will flatten the hills of oppression, straighten the paths of injustice, fill the valleys of suffering, and grant us new life.
This Messiah isn’t coming to give us Christmas back, to unlock our lives tomorrow.
This Messiah is not here to fix us or take our problems away and make things normal again.
But rather, this Messiah is coming to fill our hearts,
and bring us light.
To light our path through the dark ways ahead.
To lead us through these difficult days with the promise of new life.
To show us the way to the grace, mercy and love of God.
Half way through Advent, we might be focused on the things we won’t have this Christmas.
Yet whether we see it or not, whether we realize is to not,
the light of promise is beginning shine a little brighter.
The darkness is being pushed away one candle, one light at a time.
And as much as we carry expectations about a Christmas we cannot have, about a quick fix to world’s problems that won’t come on our timelines, and about the God who we wish was a great problem solver…
we are getting to that part of the story when all our expectations are blown away.
When the unimaginable happens…
when to an unmarried immigrant couple,
when to a young virgin teen,
when to the most unexpected people
a long hoped for yet unexpected Messiah is born…
A Messiah born to save us all.
This is what… who… John the Baptist is talking about.