Third Sunday of Advent
December 17, 2017
“Who Are You?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Who are you? That is a good question. Some people will spend their whole lives trying to find their identity. Some are very confident in who they are and what their purpose to living is. But some aren’t, they struggle and worry, but never seem to find the final answer. Maybe you’ve already solved that huge question in life and maybe you haven’t. Today, who we are is the question before us.
The second half of our Gospel reading begins, “Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.” (John 1:19) A verse later after hearing John say that he was not the Christ, they plied, “Then who are you?” After telling them he wasn’t Elijah or the Prophet, they got a little more direct, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (John 1:22)
Do you know what he could have told them? He could have mentioned that the angel Gabriel had come to his father, Zechariah, and said marvelous things about him. “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.” “Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.” (Luke 1:14, 16) Don’t you suppose that his folks told him about his amazing beginning? Don’t you suppose that they shared with him the words that God’s angel said about him? But he doesn’t puff his chest and tell about his greatness and his amazing calling. Not many folks have an angel announcing their arrival!! But he is silent about all of that.
Jesus had a great view of this man who had lived out in the desert. “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…If you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:11a, 14)
Some people can’t wait to talk about themselves. Maybe that is why I tell you so many stories about myself and my family!! A while back there were two southern ladies visiting, and one was monopolizing the conversation. At last she takes a breather and says, “Well, enough of me talking about myself, honey. Why don’t you talk about me for a little bit?”
John didn’t need a conversation about himself to know about himself. And you and I don’t either. He found his identity in Christ. When asked the question about who he was he responded, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (John 1:23) Those were the words of Isaiah the prophet. He was a voice coming from God. When he spoke God was using his very words to change the lives of many people. He was a straight talker and would not put up with any baloney. The opening line of his sermon once was, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:7b-8)
John was a witness. A witness is someone who has taken a stand. They speak about what they have heard or seen. Leon Morris says about this, “Witness establishes the truth. (And) it does more. It commits a man. If I take my stand in the witness box and testify that such-and-such is the truth of the matter I am no longer neutral. I have committed myself. John lets us see that there are those like John the Baptist who have committed themselves by their witness to Christ. But he is also bold enough to think that God has committed Himself. He has borne witness in various ways. He has committed Himself before the world in all that the Son was and did. The men who have borne their witness have committed themselves, but the important thing is the witness of God.” (Leon Morris, The Gospel of John, Pg. 90)
He knew who he was. The Voice. The Witness. He had to speak what God wanted him to speak. He had to remain true in reflecting God’s truth – no matter the result. Later his life would be taken from him, beheaded while in prison, because he spoke against the sin of the King. He knew who he was – a witness and a voice. He had backbone. And he had humility
He knew who He was because He knew who His Savior and God was. At one time John had many more disciples than Jesus. His name was more well known than Jesus. But his ministry was not about him. It was about HIM. It was all about Jesus. It was John the Evangelist who writes about John the Baptizer, “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (John 1:8)
John knew his role, as great as it was, paled in comparison to what Jesus would do. “I baptize with water but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:26-27) It was a slave who would tie the straps on the sandals of his superior, but John was so low, lower than a slave, and Jesus was so much greater than him, that he was not even worthy to untie His sandals. John also said, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8) Or, how about John knowing not just about himself but also about Jesus when he says, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)
John’s life and ministry wasn’t about John. His preaching and teaching weren’t about him. The crowds that came to John weren’t about the greatness of John. His popularity and importance wasn’t the issue. Jesus was the issue. If more people would repent of their sins and turn to God in repentance John would know that God’s will was being done. If people would see that Jesus was the true light John’s heart would have gratification. If people would not only be baptized by water but immersed in the Holy Spirit John would know that his life and work had been fruitful.
Years ago people, having some type of identity crisis, would say, “I’m trying to find myself.” They didn’t know who they were. They were wandering aimlessly, sometimes sinfully, trying to find them self. Let God find you. Let God show you in great ways just who you are!!
John was defined by God’s grace and God’s call. How are we defined? God’s grace. God’s call. This is the Third Sunday in Advent, the old Latin word for this Sunday is Guadete Sunday. That word means rejoice. The candle we light today is the Pink Candle, the Joy Candle. Grace, God’s unmerited favor toward us is what defines us. Psalm 103, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Verse 10). It is all because of Jesus, the true light that was giving light to all men, do we have forgiveness of sin and cleansing to our soul.
Who are you? Let God give the answer. I’m His. I’m loved. I’m treasured. I’m restored. I am immortal. I am a child of the King.
Who are you? You, and I, have a great call. In the early church this Sunday, Guadete Sunday, was the day when those who were to be ordained were ordained. It was to connect them with John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, the one who prepared the hearts of the people for Him. They too were to be a voice, a witness, and would find themselves not even worthy to untie His sandals.
But this isn’t the day only for the ordained. This is your day. You, too, are a light to the world. You have a great purpose in the place where you work, and live, and among your family. Do you know the verse of St. Paul? “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) We are defined first by God’s great grace in Jesus and then we are defined by the fruit of faith.
On Tuesday I was called for jury duty in Jefferson County. I drove out to the Taj Mahal and asked God to do what He wanted to do with my week. If I was to sit on a jury, that would be ok – but I reminded Him that this is a busy time for a pastor, and I had a funeral on Saturday, and I already had my tickets for opening day on Friday for the Star Wars movie. When I got there I found out the trial was going to be through the week, possibly into this next week. I’m sure God didn’t want me there!!
As the morning went on I found myself as juror #9. Then the prosecution and the defense started to eliminate folks that they didn’t like. I was not one of the favorites. But there was one lady who, when asked if she was happy to get the jury summons said she was. She had never been called, and she was an older lady, and she wanted to serve in that way. The judge commended her and said, “This might be your lucky day.”
That older lady – she had the right heart. She looked for the opportunity to serve. She had a good answer to the question, “Who are you?”
“Who are you and why are you doing these things?” John gave a confident answer based on God’s grace and God’s call. With a humble heart he gave his bold answer.
And how about us? We get to answer with utmost confidence that we are God’s own people and we have a holy calling in life to be a voice and a witness to the world around that Jesus has saved us and God has called us to a great purpose. Know who you are. You are His!! Amen!!