Witness (Worship for Sunday, December 13)

Catch our 9:30am service here. Sermon attached below.

Catch our 11:15am service here.

Sermon Text:

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

Karl Barth, the great protestant theologian of the 20th century, wrote most of his theological masterpiece—the Church Dogmatics—while sitting under a reproduction of Matthias Grunewald’s artistic masterpiece, the much celebrated crucifixion scene from the Isenheim altarpiece.

The scene, which hung above Barth’s desk in his study, features a rather gruesome depiction of Christ on the cross, his body disfigured and contorted. At Christ’s right is Mary his mother collapsing into the arms of John, the beloved disciple. At Christ’s left is another figure scruffy and disheveled in appearance, a lamb at his feet. He is holding open a book, the scriptures of the Old Testament, and he is pointing to the figure on the cross. It is John the Baptist. He is testifying, as he does in today’s gospel reading.

What do we learn about John this morning? First of all, he is sent from God. John is not on his own mission, but God’s mission. John is not doing his own work, but God’s work. John did not come up with this idea by himself, God did. God called and sent John. Second of all, we learn that John’s job is to be a witness, to testify to the light. He himself is not the light, he simply points to the light. Why? So that through his witness others might come to believe.

And John knows this, the dignity of his role. He makes no grand claims about himself, in fact, when the religious leaders come to question him all he seems able to say is, “I am not.” “Are you the Messiah?” they ask. “I am not.” Perhaps Elijah then or a prophet like Moses? Again, “I am not.” “Who are you?” “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

“Who are you?” Is this not ultimately the question that the world asks of the church? Is this not ultimately the question that the world will ask of you who profess Christ and seek to follow him? “Who are you?” How will we answer? 

Are we the Messiah, who will save the world? We are not. Are we one from among the prophets, speaking on behalf of God? We are not. Who then are we? We are simply a voice: crying out, testifying, bearing witness to he who is from God and who is God, the only saviour of the world, the only one who speaks the word of life, Jesus Christ our Lord. Not our Lord only but the Lord of all, who reigns and who is coming and who has indeed come.

This morning in the sacrament of holy baptism God is going to add another voice to that chorus sounding out in the desert. And I think you’ll make an excellent addition Maddy because I know how much you love to sing! And you’re such a good singer as well!

It’s a good thing, too, because the world really needs to know the good news about Jesus. We’re all pretty familiar with the bad news: the world is broken, humans are weak and incapable of really fixing it despite our best efforts, and a lot of the time it can seem awfully dark. But there’s good news, tremendously good news in fact. Light and life are coming into the world and have come in Jesus Christ. The light that Jesus brings illumines everything and is shining even now while darkness and death continue to rage about us. The light and life of Jesus shines in the world and that means that darkness and death are on their last legs.

That’s the light that John points to and that’s the light that we’re called to point to as well. Full of the joy of the Holy Spirit, full of the love of God poured into our hearts, full of hope because of who Jesus is and what he’s promised to do.

That’s what a baptism is, a sign of hope, a sign that God is still transforming the world by his love. Maddy, God has been at work in your life for a long time now, I really believe that. But this morning he will do something new in you. And when he pours his love into your heart this morning the light, God’s light, will shine a little brighter in the world so that others can see Jesus too and believe in him.

And it’s a reminder to the rest of us. Jesus is still calling us to follow him. He’s still sending us out to make room for him. He’s still transforming us day by day so that our lives proclaim his name. I am not but he is, and he is coming, and has come, and is here. Believe in him.

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