Advent 3b

Preached: December 21, 2008

Which Light Are You Looking at?
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus is John 1:6-8, 19-28

A man came, sent by God. His name was John. He came to testify, to testify about the Light, in order that all might believe through him. He himself was not the Light, but [he came] to testify about the Light.

This is John's testimony when the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to inquire from him: “Who are you?”

He confessed and did not deny, he confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

“What then,” they inquired, “are you Elijah?”

“I'm not,” he says.

“Are you the prophet?”

“No,” he replied.

Then they said to him, “Who then? - so that we can give a reply to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?

He said, “I am the voice calling in the wilderness: 'Make the way of the Lord straight,' just as the prophet Isaiah said.”

Some of the Pharisees had been sent. They inquired from him and said to him, “Then why do you baptize if you are not the Christ nor Elijah nor the prophet?”

John replied to them, “I baptize with water. In your midst stands ones whom you do not know. He comes after me, whose sandal straps I am not worthy to untie.”

These things came about in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

(John 1:6-8, 19-28)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Lights are all around us at this time of year. Lights decorate trees and homes and businesses. Sometimes multicolored lights. Sometimes a single color of deep blue or bright red or pure white. Some lights flash, some shine steady. So many lights. Which light are you looking at?

A. False lights shine to deceive us

1) Describe three kinds of “lights” that distract us from the one, genuine Light?

In the text, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had heard about a light in the desert. People were streaming out to look at it. Who was this light? Might he be a threat to their power base? Might he be the fulfillment of prophesy? Was he Elijah, or the Prophet, or even the Christ? To get answers they sent a delegation of priests and Levites.

When they came to John the Baptist, he made it clear that he was not the Light. “He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, 'I am not the Christ'” (John 1:20 NIV). Neither was he Elijah come back down from heaven nor the Prophet foretold by Moses. This weeks Meditations will tell you more about the significance behind those names. But for today see that John made it clear that “he himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light” (John 1:8 NIV). Their focusing on John distracted the people from the one, genuine Light to whom John pointed.

What distracts you from the true Light? Maybe the first thing that comes to mind at this time of the year is all the commercialism and materialism. What do you want from Santa? These glitzy lights flash to draw your attention but burn out so quickly. You and I know that money cannot buy happiness and that all the things that are sold will rust, break, wear out, and go dead. Yet sometimes we get caught up in all that wanting, coveting, craving of stuff. That's were much of our frustration and disappointment come from. But when confronted with our sinful coveting, we readily admit our wrong and confess that we were following a false light.

So the devil tries to distract us from the one, genuine Light in other ways ways that we might not see as all that bad at first. One such light is busyness. Like a bright work light, busyness draws our time and energy busy at work, busy at school, busy at home, busy at church, busy in the community, busy at play. How busy life is!

Now God does want us to carry out our proper responsibilities. He wants us busy and not idle or lazy in our roles as husband, wife, father, mother, or child, as worker or student, as neighbor, citizen, community member, and church member. But when busyness clouds the one, genuine Light, pushing him to the side, then our busyness becomes damning sinfulness, a false light. How many things worry and upset us because like Martha we are too busy for the one thing needed, too busy to sit and listen to our Savior's words as Mary did! And how diabolical the devil is! He uses those beginnings of guilt over our busyness to drive us on to be all the more busy, trying to drown our guilt by keeping busy, so busy that we don't have time to think about it. But only the one, genuine Light can really take away our guilt. Don't let the devil distract you with false lights.

For you see, there is still yet another false light. A warm, soft light. The light around the kitchen table and the living-room floor. It is the light of family and friends, brotherly love and earthly peace. Consider the Christmas movies and specials that appear year after year. Many of them show that commercialism and too much busyness are false lights. But what do they hold up as the one, genuine Light? Family, friendship, brotherly love, earthly peace. As great as those blessings are, they are not the one, genuine Light. Just as John the Baptist, as great and godly a preacher as he was, was not the Light.

How often we too focus on family before Christ! “Christmas is for the kids,” echoes in our minds. Have our traditions focused us more on the children rather than on the Child, the Christ-child? Would we gather as gladly to celebrate our Savior's birth on Christmas Eve if the children did not have their program? Just compare our attendance on Christmas Day with Christmas Eve, and I think you have the answer.

And we add to our guilt all the more because we feel justified in defending our focus on our family. “This is the only time I have to spend with my family!” If it comes down to the choice that you only have time either for your family or for your God, then you are spending too much time with work or school activities or community/social events or recreational enjoyments or household chores and shopping or sports and hunting or maybe even in doing service around the church. Family is very important. But rather than replacing time with our Savior and taking our focus off of him, family ought to come before those other activities, not before our Savior.

How guilty we are! How much we need the one, genuine Light. All these other lights, even the light of family and friendship, burn out and leave us in darkness of sin and death. But the one, genuine Light burns on even through the darkest days. It drives away even the most dreadful guilt and gloom. It shatters the damning darkness.

B. How great the one, genuine Light is!

1) Describe what the one, genuine Light has done for us?

John the Baptist pointed to that light. He testified about the Light, for John was as a faithful witness. That was his purpose. “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe” (John 1:6, 7 NIV).

Who is that one, genuine Light, the Light John testifies about? Listen to John's testimony: “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 1:27 NIV). So great is the one, genuine Light that not even John, whose whole life was dedicated to God, was worthy to do the job of the lowest slave in his presence. For the one, genuine Light is no one less than God himself.

Yet he walked in our sandals. God became man. The almighty, eternal Son of the Father became one of us. He walked the dusty roads of this life, unrecognized as God by so many. He suffered losses, hardships, and trials. In our sandals he walked to the bloody cross and spread out his arms to die in our place.

What love! Unearned, unmerited, undeserved love radiates from the one, genuine Light! We, who have wandered after other lights, we in no way deserve the warmth of his love. But as great as is the darkness those false lights leave us in, so much greater is the light of his love. It pierces our darkness and brings life and salvation.

Don't turn away from his Light. As the Sun of righteousness, he brings healing in his rays, binding up the broken-hearted. As the bright morning Star, he brings the end to the night of our sin, release from the darkness of guilt's prison. For he shines on you with his forgiveness. Rejoice! Be glad. It is true.

Through the testimony of Word and Sacraments he brings you forgiveness, declaring you right in God's sight. How? How could forgiveness and its joy come to guilty sinners like you and me? How? Because he, God the Son, became man, born from a virgin in Bethlehem. He became man and took your place. He walked in your sandals, carrying your sin and guilt, nailing it to the cross, dying your death, and rising from the dead because he has secured God's verdict: Forgiveness for all who believe! Forgiveness for you and me. What a Light! Jesus, the true, genuine Light.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313