September 21, 2018

Advent III Sermon: “Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light”

Will O’ the Wisp. Photo by zharth

John 1:6-8, 19-28
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

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.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said,

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

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

• • •

“Blessed are you who bear the light.” So begins a poem by Jan Richardson, a United Methodist minister and one of my favorite artists and bloggers on the internet. In this phrase she captures one of the key themes in today’s Gospel text.

John, it says, came as a witness, to testify to the light. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The rest of the text shows how he did that. When the religious police came to nail him down on who he was, he refused to claim anything more than that. He wasn’t the Messiah, he said, nor was he a great prophet like Elijah. Instead, he just claimed to be a voice telling the truth, a person who had come into the darkness bearing a light, pointing to a light beyond himself. And so he did, relentlessly pointing to Jesus as the one who would come as Messiah and Lord.

What a great calling! And in some ways it is the same calling each of us have. Bearers of the light. Called to be with one another in the darkness and point each other to the light beyond, the light to come.

There are many of us who dwell in darkness during this Christmas season. Some of you are in the darkness of sadness. Perhaps you have lost loved ones with whom you are accustomed to sharing the holidays. You are missing them. Perhaps other difficult and depressing situations are weighing you down. Whatever it may be, your hearts hurt and the darkness seems even darker at this time of year.

I have a simple question. Who will hold up a light for them? Who will join these who are sad, be present and available in the darkness to bear the light to them? Who will show them the love of God in Jesus and perform acts of kindness that will comfort and uphold them?

Some of you are in the darkness of feeling lost. You need direction for your life and can’t seem to find it. The road ahead seems dark and foggy ahead of you. You can’t see your way clear. You have decisions to make but have no idea what the right thing to do might be.

I’ll ask the same question: Who will hold up a light for them? Who will seek out those who are lost in order to be present to them and available to bear a light for them? Who will pray for them and search the scriptures with them and listen to their questions and doubts and help them find guidance if possible?

Now we aren’t all John the Baptist. He had a ministry that was absolutely unique. He came at an appointed time in history, in the darkness of Israel’s exile, and pointed to the One who was coming to be the Light of the world, Savior and Lord of all. We may get opportunities to witness to Jesus like that, but I’m speaking in a broader sense about being a light-bearer here. There are many ways to light the darkness.

Whenever we live in faith, we are pointing to the light. Whenever we recognize our dependence upon God’s grace and the enabling energy of the Holy Spirit to conduct our daily lives, the light shines through us.

Whenever we live in hope, we are pointing to the light. Whenever we refuse to accept that the powers of evil and destruction will win, whenever we carry within our hearts the ultimate optimism that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from God’s love, the light is shining through us.

Whenever we live in love, we are pointing to the light. Whenever we stretch beyond living in a selfish and small world to include someone else in it, whenever we commit ourselves to being with someone and available to that person for his or her benefit, the light is shining through us.

People all around us are in darkness of one kind or another. It’s a part of this life, this imperfect, transient, beautiful yet often terrible life we live in. The question is not, “Will we experience darkness?” We all will. The question is always, “Where are the light-bearers?” Where are those who will be with us in the darkness and who can point us beyond the darkness to the light to come? Maybe, as I said earlier, some of you are experiencing a good measure of darkness right now. For a lot of people, Christmas doesn’t help that. It just stirs up the pain, the memories, the regrets, and the sadness all over again.

Let’s try to do for each other this year what John did for his fellow Israelites so long ago. He bore the light for them in their darkness. He spoke truth in the wilderness. He testified and pointed to the light.

I’d like to end with Jan Richardson’s poem of blessing for all who take up this holy task this Christmas:

Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light

Blessed are you in unaccountable faith
who bear the light in stubborn hope
in unbearable times, in love that illumines
who testify every broken thing
to its endurance it finds.
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
in shadow
and grief.

Blessed are you
in whom
the light lives,
in whom
the brightness blazes—
your heart
a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith
in stubborn hope
in love that illumines
every broken thing
it finds.

May we be blessed bearers of light, people of Christ whose faith, hope, and love illumines every broken thing we find.

• • •

Photo by zharth at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Comments

  1. Ronald Avra says:

    Thanks; very helpful.

  2. Thank you for this. The poem is so appropriate to what many feel in this Season who grieve the loss of dear loved ones. It is a kindness for others to understand how this Season affects those who mourn. It is a kindness for witnesses to the light to come and be present to them in silent and respectful ways.

  3. Being the light of the world is very much more, “bearing about in our body the dying of the Lord”’, than it is about being a “victorious overcomer”, whatever that is.