Saturday, December 9, 2017

Who Do You Think You Are?

John 1:6-8, 19-28, the gospel lesson appointed for the 3rd Sunday in Advent in the Year of Mark, is John's answer regarding the identity of John the Baptizer.  The first thing we learn is that he was a man (not an angel). Then we learn that he was sent by God and his name was John.  If this does not peek our interest then we are told why he has come:  to testify to the light which we have been told about in the first five verses: the light of all peoples; the light that shines in the darkness which the darkness could not overcome.  A person with a name and a calling.  Could he be a model for each of us?

(The following questions attempt to answer some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers.  They are not meant to be exhaustive, but to be used with any of other fine sets of questions we might use to inquire of a text.  To learn more about Law and Gospel preaching, see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting  the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The Word functions here to proclaim.  This word proclaims that one has come who is testifying to the light, "so that all might believe [in this light] through him."  The Word also proclaims one who knows himself to be merely "a voice crying out in the wilderness," telling of the One coming later of whom "I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals."  All of this proclamation, like other Advent texts, is the Word functioning as gospel bringing good news.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  A word of Law is not present here.  That is to say, there is no word lifting up our need for Christ.  Near the end of the text we hear John say, "Among you stands one whom you do not know."  This is a hint of the need we have for a voice, for one pointing to the light.  There is no judgment in this observation, however.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are those who are questioning John:  "Who are you?  What do you say about yourself?  Why are you baptizing?"  We are the ones who do not recognize the One who stands among us, even though this One is the true light that enlightens all.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  There is no call to obedience, per se, but John is an example for us in that we also have a name.  We also are sent by God to be a voice in the wilderness.  We also are called to testify to the One who has given us light.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  There is language in the text that leads us to several ideas:  darkness/light; lost [in the wilderness]/found; unknown/known.

6.  Exegetical work: It is clear from the opening verses that this text is about testimony.  John came to "testify to the light."  Kittel reminds us of the meaning behind this Greek word, martys:  "The witness is simply to the nature and significance of His person."  "He is the Son of god.  He is the light of the world.  He is the Savior.  He is the Lamb of God...etc." (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. IV, p. 498)  The ancient writers were in one accord as to the importance of this testimony.  Origen, writing in the third century said that "some try to undo the testimonies of the prophets to Christ by saying that the Son of God had no need of such witnesses... To this we may reply that where there are a number of reasons to make people believe, persons are often impressed by one kind of proof and not by another."  Cyril of Alexandria, several centuries later, wrote:  "[God] did not suppose that he ought, even if of gravest weight, to demand of the readers in his book concerning our Savior credence above that of the law, and that they should believe him by himself when declaring things above our understanding and sense."  St. John Chrysostom, a contemporary of Cyril's, reminded us of the mercy God shows in using a witness:  "[Christ] could have proven that he had no need of that [herald's] testimony by showing himself in his unveiled essence, had he so chosen, and that would have confounded them all.  But he did  not do this because he would have annihilated everybody since no one could have endured the encounter of that unapproachable light." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, Vol. IVa, p. 30).

7.   Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  David Buttrick was quick to point out the need to limit our sermons to only the number of "moves" that the listener could keep in mind at once.  Are we careful to consider the listener's capacity as we preach?

Blessings on your proclamation!

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