Beckett: Advent Sermon – During God’s Time, We Witness!

Date: December 9, 2020
Festival: Advent Midweek 2
Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28
Preaching Occasion: Immanuel Lutheran Church, St. Charles, MO
Sermon Hymn: LSB #825 Rise, Shine, You People

Exegetical Statement: In these chosen sections of St. John’s prologue, John the Baptiser is distinguished from the Light of the world. John was not the Light of the world, but he was sent by God to bear witness to it, that is, the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. The baptism he initiated bore witness to the Gospel the Light would bring into this dark world.

Focus Statement: Jesus has enlightened you with the gift of His salvation and the knowledge of who God is.

Function Statement: That my hearers might bear witness about the Light of Christ during the dark times of the pandemic

Let us pray: Come, Holy Spirit, and give us ears to hear, that we may inwardly digest the Living Word of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to the strengthening of our wills and hearts, who reigns with the Father now and forevermore. Amen.

Introduction: Christ the Light of God

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through Him. He was not the light but came to bear witness about the light” [John 1:6-8]. When I ask you what—or rather, who—this “light” is referring to, if you’re familiar with John’s Gospel you would probably and correctly say the light is Jesus. But how do you know this?

Well, just before our pericope today, verses 1-5 say, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Then in verse 14 we find out this Word of God that is also the Light of God is, in fact, Jesus, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus, the Light of God, is whom John the Baptiser came to bear witness to. And this is what John witnessed about Jesus in tonight’s pericope, “‘I baptise with water, but among you stands one you do not know‘” [v. 26]. The one to whom John bore witness was, in fact, standing among them! As John said, they did not know Him—they were in the dark about the Light. So, someone had to bear witness to Jesus, and this is just what the Baptiser did.

Like the curtains being drawn at the beginning of a play, Jesus stands in the midst of everyone with a spotlight upon Him as John the Baptiser announces, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” [v. 29]. This man who is God in the flesh is the Light of the world.

Darkness in the Text

Yet our Scripture tonight has some strong and troubling implications. If Jesus in the flesh was the Light of the world, and there was a time when Jesus was not in the flesh, this means that up until now, the world has lived in darkness. Not as in the absence of physical light and not merely the absence of things like welfare, fertility, and peace. Up until Jesus’ baptismal entrance into the world, Galilee was in the dark about who God is. Indeed, the whole world was in the dark. And being in the dark about who God is, the people thus lived in darkness. But in what ways was first century Palestine dark?

There are a lot of things I could talk about, but for one, it was not good to be a woman during these times. Today’s “feminists” think they have it so bad today, but during Jesus’ day, women were treated no better than criminals; women couldn’t even testify in court because they were considered to be unreliable witnesses; in fact, they were viewed and treated as property.

And as much as women today continue to be treated as sexual objects for base gratification, it was significantly worse in Jesus’ day. Cultic prostitution was still popular among the Gentile pagan religions, and it is to such a pagan region called Galilee where Jesus grew up and began His ministry. And it was Jesus who first turned the treatment of women completely on its head.

Very soon in John 4 we’d see Jesus speak with such a Gentile woman in Samaria. As Jesus speaks with her, she wonders, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” [4:9]. But Jesus doesn’t care about Palestine’s status quo concerning race and gender. He speaks to the woman, telling her He is the Messiah she and her people have been waiting for, and then she returns to her town to bear witness about the Messiah who told her “all that she ever did” [4:30].

Through her witness, the town believed. In these days, no one believes the word of a woman, but Jesus utterly reverses this and causes them to be brought to faith by this woman’s witness.

Jesus enlightened this woman and her town. Not only did He reverse the treatment of women by simply speaking to her and allowing her to speak about Him, but also through her witness, she and her people came to know Jesus and, consequently, who God is.

Besides misogyny, poverty was also a dark thing in these days. We still have the poor among us today, which Jesus said will always be the case [Matthew 26:11], but the programmes and organisations that exist today were non-existent in Jesus’ day.

Back then, the poor were not viewed as people to be helped and brought out of their miserable state. Rather, they were entirely marginalised and neglected. Jesus also completely flips this on its head in His parables and His own treatment of the poor.

Jesus does not give them wealth of money, but He does give them wealth of life—the life that is the light of men, the Gospel says. And Jesus did this not only by healing their diseases but, even more, giving them eternal life in Him—His Light.

We read texts like these and we think how awesome Jesus is… but these Scriptures can also become troubling for us. You might not be willing to say it, so I’ll say it for you: It doesn’t seem like Jesus is entirely present. If Jesus is the Light of the world, where is He?!

Sure, Jesus is here with us, for wherever two or three are gathered in His name, He says, there He is among us [Matthew 18:20]. He is absolutely here with us now as we are gathered around the Word and Sacraments, and He is truly present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. But He is not present today in our darkness the same way He was present in the dark days of Galilee and Jerusalem, physically walking among us, healing the sick and the blind.

Darkness in the World: The World’s “Enlightenment”

So, we responded to this supposed problem by creating our own “enlightenment.” We started a whole movement towards Enlightenment in the 18th century. Our American forefathers were disciples of this movement. Instead of trusting in Jesus as the source of enlightenment, our forefathers—and we after them—started to preach a different gospel of enlightenment, that of rational enlightenment. Our American forefathers believed humanity could only progress through the improvement of rational thought. Through scientific and rational progress, they believed, humanity could reach true enlightenment. Were they right? Well, let’s see:

Their Enlightenment philosophy led to the success of the American Revolution, giving rise to our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. So, that seems pretty enlightening, I suppose. Then what happened? Lewis and Clark set out on their expedition in 1804, leading to the first continental map of the United States in 1816, so that was pretty cool, I guess. Then what? Forty-five years later, the country was led into one of the world’s bloodiest wars: the Civil War, mainly because people wanted to hold on to their African slaves. Huh, not very enlightening.

Thirty-three years later the Spanish-American war happened. Then the stock market crashed, causing the Great Depression, then World War I happened; and one world war was not enough, so we had another one! And thanks to scientific progress, we created a new weapon that can kill millions in the blink of an eye! …

Then the Cold War happened, the Korean War, the Vietnam War; Martin Luther King Jr. is murdered for daring to preach racial equality; meanwhile, the sexual revolution takes place that has completely deconstructed marriage and marginalised children; then the Gulf War happens, the War in Afghanistan is still ongoing, political parties advocate for killing babies in the womb while others do not want to help the foreigner who sojourns in our land, everyone stares at their smartphones in public, and now we have a pandemic on our hands!

Our supposed Enlightenment has not seemed to have enlightened us at all, has it? Our experiment with human enlightenment has only led to more war, mass murder, narcissism, and disenchantment from each other’s lives; our supposed enlightenment cannot even find a quick solution to this pestilence that, to use Psalm 91’s words, stalks us in darkness [Psalm 91:5-6]. Man’s supposed enlightenment has only led to more darkness.

The Church’s Enlightenment

So, again, if Jesus is the Light of the world, where is He? Well, I have Good News for you. It might not look exactly what we read about in the New Testament, but Jesus is here. According to St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, the church is the Body of Christ! …This is more than a metaphor! Where the church is—where Jesus’ disciples live and engage with others—that is where Jesus is! Therefore, you continue to the walk on God’s highway that John the Baptiser paved: having been baptised into this One greater than John, you therefore bear witness to the Light of the world. Yet what does bearing witness to the Light look like?

Later in John, Jesus says to His disciples—and you are His disciples too—“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” [13:34-35].

So, how do you and I bear witness to Christ? By loving one another… Reflect on how you and other Christians have been behaving during the pandemic. Have we been showing love to our fellow man during these times?

Our Apostolic Father, Ignatius, is rather helpful on what showing love looks like. He advised the Ephesians to do works that imitate Christ, who Himself did great and perfect works. Likely drawing from the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, he advises:

Pray continually for the rest of humankind as well, that they may find God, for there is in them hope for repentance. Therefore, allow them to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds. In response to their anger, be gentle; in response to their boasts, be humble; in response to their slander, offer prayers; in response to their errors, be steadfast in the faith; in response to their cruelty, be civilized; do not be eager to imitate them. Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers and sisters, and let us be eager to be imitators of the Lord.

Ignatius to the Ephesians 10.1-3

In these and various ways, you and I bear witness to the Light of Christ by imitating Him with the light He Himself has given us. Jesus has enlightened you with His Light by giving you eternal life, showing you who God the Father is in His death and resurrection; therefore, because you now have His Light, you now bear witness to His Light.

It is as St. Peter wrote to his hearers, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it [and] you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called {gesture toward Christ on the cross}, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. [What is this example?] He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly” [1 Peter 2:20-23].

The only thing the world in which we live does is loot and riot and curse in anger, boast in their pride (they have a whole month dedicated to it), slander you and me for following Christ, teach their lies to our children, and act with cruelty toward those they disagree with. Let us not imitate them, brothers and sisters. Let us rather imitate the Light of Christ, showing love by responding to their anger with gentleness, to their pride with humility, to their slanders with prayers, to their errors with obedience to Christ, to their cruelty with kindness, praying for them always so that the Spirit might lead them to repentance.

In a way, the coronavirus has enlightened us; it has enlightened the worst parts of us. The virus has exposed our narcissism, our impatience, and, quite frankly, our weak trust in God’s faithfulness. Some people—Christians included—are decrying the coronavirus and the mandate of face masks as violating our “rights.” What rights?! We’re not called to bear witness to our “rights”; we’re called to bear witness to Christ!

What if instead of responding like self-entitled brats, we respond as the church with the love of Christ? What would the church look like if we started doing what the church is supposed to do—by loving one another even when it’s hard? Imagine this movement of enlightenment that imitates the Light of Christ in the world!

Now, it might sound like I’m being legalistic to some of you, but I assure you, I’m not. My exhortation is simply Scripture’s call telling you to actually live like God’s people who are set apart for Himself. Being set apart for God means you look differently than the rest of the world! You and I are justified by grace through faith, absolutely, and salvation is not your own doing but the gift of God, according to that great passage, Ephesians 2:8-9.

But the passage continues in verse 10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The good works we produce are the good fruit that happens to be produced by the good trees Christ has made us. Just as the sun’s light enables the tree to bear good fruit, so God’s Son, the Light of the world, enables you and me to bear good fruit that bear witness to His holy name.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us not become lazy couch potatoes in our justification by faith, growing fat in our antinomian apathy. Let us, rather, become fit doers of the Light of the Word, who is Christ, through the good works He has prepared for us beforehand by loving one another, so that the light He has given us may bear witness to He who is the Light of the world that enlightens His human creatures with eternal life by grace through faith.

Let us be the church as the city set on a hill that cannot be hidden and let us stop placing a basket over the church with our darkened apathy. By doing what Jesus does—by loving one another especially when times are dark—we make Him known in the world, and He makes Himself present.

Let us pray: “May the all-seeing God and Master of spirits and Lord of all flesh, who chose the Lord Christ, and us through Him to be His own special people, grant to every soul that has called upon His magnificent and holy name: faith, fear [of God], peace patience, steadfastness, self-control, purity, and sobriety, so that [we] may be pleasing to His name through our High Priest and Benefactor, Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and majesty and honor toHim, both now and [forevermore]. Amen.” [1 Clement 64]

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