Come to Enlighten Us

Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28
Date: Advent III B + 12/17/17

St. Mark kicked off a new season of Advent proclaiming how God has come to save us and to lead us in the Person of His Son, Jesus. To give us a deeper insight into the Savior, today St. John the evangelist shares the stage. In the first chapter of his Gospel he continues to tell us the testimony or witness of John the Baptist. Actually, he does this by telling us who the Baptist is not. For the purpose of both the evangelist and the Baptist is to bear witness to Jesus, the Son of God. The evangelist says this most clearly in the twentieth chapter of his book, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:31). The Baptist says his purpose is to tell all, especially those who will not believe, that nevertheless, though the Savior has come, He remains to them “one you do not know” (Jn 1:26). Actually, we are all by nature in the same boat with the priests and Levites who confronted the Baptist, in that all people, all sinners are by nature spiritually blind to God. It is only as we are enlightened to the light that we can believe and be saved. In Jesus God has come to enlighten us.

St. John begins his Gospel in words that make us recall the six day creation of the world. As the first words of the book of Genesis read, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” St. John begins by describing the coming of Jesus as if to initiate the coming of the new creation, saying, “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 anything 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” (Jn. 1:1-5).

After such a beautiful and even poetic beginning, it almost sounds like a rude interruption when we read the very next words, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” But we’re not changing subjects here for we are told this man “came as a witness, to bear witness about the light.” God comes to enlighten us to a new beginning for us through the witness and testimony of a man. But not just any man. This man, like all the prophets before him was “sent from God.” In fact we can call this man the last of the Old Testament prophets. We hear the word “witness” three times in these few verses. A witness in a court room is not asked to talk about himself except insofar as to tell about someone else. John does this perfectly.

As the word “witness” is repeated three times, so when asked by a delegation from Jerusalem who he is he began by saying three times who he is not.

The priests and Levites were those called by God to make sure nothing got in the way of God’s provision of His word through the temple, that is, to specialize “in questions of liturgical propriety.”[1] So when this new preacher suddenly appears they have to check him out to see if he may be some wild religious threat. Therefore they compare him to their messianic hopes. First, whether he thinks he is the messiah himself, then whether this might be Elijah of old who God said would come just before the messiah. Finally they reached back even further asking whether he is the prophet Moses spoke of that God said He would raise up to deliver His Word.

To each of these suggestions John—here is that main word again—John “confessed, and did not deny, but confessed” first, saying, “I am not the Christ.” His answer was shorter concerning whether he might be Elijah, saying only, “I am not.” Finally, he denies being identified with the prophet foretold by Moses with but one word, “No.”

Then we hear his interrogators’ frustration when they said, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice,” the one spoken about by the prophet Isaiah, saying, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Is 40:3).

Notice that this answer still does not satisfy these liturgical experts, for they asked, “Then why are you baptizing?” In answer, our witness only points to Jesus. (Liturgically, we hear about and remember the baptism of Jesus on the First Sunday after the Epiphany. But here John tells us he had already baptized Him.) He remembers what he himself had already seen. He said, “for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that He might be revealed to Israel.” “And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God’” (Jn 1:30-34).

On this Third Sunday in Advent we rejoice that God has come to enlighten us, to enlighten us with the clear vision of faith, faith in Jesus. With that light the Church is also charged to bear witness. In so doing we don’t talk as much about ourselves but about Jesus, who He is and what He came to do. In this half of the liturgical year we slowly tell about the Son of God’s incarnation in the Virgin Mary. We describe His light in His teaching and finally through His suffering and triumph through the cross and the empty tomb of His resurrection. Then, too, like John, we bear witness that this same, risen Lord is standing today in our midst. For He comes to each soul, knocking on the door of their heart, in order to enter with the glorious light of salvation, the forgiveness of our sins and a brand new life that will last forever, even through the grave and gate of death.

In each generation “there was a man,” that is someone to serve as a witness to the world in order that the light may continue to enlighten people to God’s love and salvation. Our risen Lord says to you and to all who believe in Him, “you will be my witnesses…to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

[1] Cullmann, Early Christian Worship, 60 quoted in Weinrich, John 1:1-7:1, ©2015, 209.