Third Sunday in Advent December 16-17, 2023
“Who Are You?” John 1:6-8, 19-28
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Dr. Ely Prieto teaches at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He tells an account of going to the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California. Maybe you’ve been there. Some of the most famous actors, singers or entertainers have their name inscribed on a piece of black granite with a pink star just above the name. If you are on the Walk of Fame you’ve made it, baby!!
Prieto goes on in his account, “What’s interesting about this place is that while you’re walking over this Walk of Fame, you’ll be surprised to find some of these important and famous people walking next to you. When I was there many years ago with my family, Elvis Presley came and talked to my wife! And then, all of a sudden, Marilyn Monroe showed up. A few steps later, we saw Superman, and then, not one but two Spider-Men! Many famous people, big stars. You know what, though? They were all impersonators! They were not the real thing! They were only pretenders! They wanted to be what they really were not!” (Concordia Pulpit Resources, December 17, 2023, Page 21-22)
Being an impersonator can be a great thing. There are shows in Las Vegas that are all about someone looking like a big star, singing like a big star, but they aren’t the big star. I did a funeral many years ago and the lady who died loved everything Elvis Presley. The family hired a guy who looked like Elvis and sang like Elvis to do the music at the funeral. He actually did pretty good at “Amazing Grace”. And when he was done I got to say that Elvis had left the building.
But impersonators are just that. They pretend. They really aren’t the real thing. Today we look at the man of whom Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11) John was the real thing. No fake in him. But there were quite a few questions about who he was and what he was doing.
John came to the Jordan River and he was baptizing. Many Jews from Jerusalem were coming to him as they looked for a new beginning in life. Initially he had many more followers than Jesus. This new sensation needed to explain himself. This is what we read, “Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Christ.’ They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet? He answered no.’ Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’” (John 1:19-22)
Who are you? John, first of all humbly tells them who he wasn’t. I’m not the Christ. I’m not Elijah. I’m not the Prophet. He would later say that he was not even worthy to tie the sandals of the man that he was introducing to the world.
John would always insist that he was the runner up and not the champion. He uses words like “witness”, one who testifies, or simply “a voice.” John pointed people to Jesus. When asked who he was, John said, “I am the voice of the one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (John 1:23)
In a world where becoming the king of the hill seems to be the aspiration of so many from the youngest to the oldest, John tells us that there is something greater for us. There is someone more important than us and our name and our praise and our position. Jesus is more important and always must remain more important. There were two southern belles visiting, and one was monopolizing the conversation. At last she took a breather and said, “Well, enough of me talking about myself, honey. Why don’t you talk about me for a bit?”
John knew who he was and what his calling should be. As Jesus grew in popularity, as his followers joined the band of followers of Jesus, some who were loyal to him worried that so many were leaving him and going over to Jesus. His great answer was, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)
“Who am I?” was not as important as “Who is He?”. There is only one Savior. There is only one Redeemer. There is only one hope for the forgiveness of sin and the certainty that we are going to be in heaven when we die. Only faith in Jesus can bring you God’s gifts. I find chapter one of John quite interesting in how it was arranged. It is all about Jesus. The opening words are: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And then in verse 14 it says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
It is the wonderful word about Jesus. Fully God. Fully man. But right in the middle of all these words speaking about Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus, are words about John. Why would he be in John 1? But he is. “There came a man who was sent from God: his name was John. He came to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (John 1:6-8)
In Alsace, France there is a museum that houses a painting by Matthias Grunewald that depicts the crucifixion of Jesus. Mary is shown to the right of Jesus. Mary Magdalene is praying on her knees. But then someone who was not at the cross is pictured at the cross. It is John the Baptist. As you might know, John was martyred, beheaded, long before the crucifixion of Jesus. But it is John there. A lamb is by his feet, and he has a large bony finger pointing directly at Jesus on the cross. Though historically incorrect, theologically it is absolutely true. It was John the Baptist when he sees Jesus walking toward him who points and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Who are you? John speaks in humility as to his place in the world, but he has the greatest joy of introducing others to the gift from heaven, Jesus Christ. Another John, the writer of this Gospel, also speaks of his purpose of writing the biography about Jesus, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
As I think about John the Baptist and his role – being a witness, directing people to Jesus – I wonder: Who was like John in your life? Who directed you to Jesus? Who pointed at Him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and took away your sin?” Who established your faith and made sure you heard the truth that you are God’s precious child? A mom? A dad? A family member? A teacher or a neighbor? A friend or a co-worker? If that person is still around, can I ask you for a favor? Please, send that person a Christmas card and thank him or her for what he or she did for you.
Now, who are you? You can be like John. You can be a voice out there in this world. You can speak the voice of God’s truth. You can take your big old bony finger and point others to Jesus. You can say – this is the very Lamb of God who has taken the sins of the world upon Himself. He has taken your sins upon Himself. He is the brilliant light in this world of darkness. He is the one who gives eternal life to anyone who believes in Him. You can be a faithful witness of Jesus to others.
Who are you? Let God form that brilliant answer every day in your life. Amen!!