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On Not Being the Christ

00:00 / 17:13

17 Dec 2023

The Third Sunday of Advent

John 1:6-8;19-28

Advent III, 2023

Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11; 1 Thess. 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

John the Baptist

Born in miraculous circumstances. Elizabeth advanced in years, unable to bear. Message from an angel of the Lord to Zechariah, Elizabeth will bear a son and ‘“he will be great before the Lord”’ (Luke 1:15).

Jesus said of him, ‘“I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John”’ (Luke 7:28)

What made him so great?

The passage from John gives us an idea. Strong emphasis on negation:

‘There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light’ (John 1:6-8).

Priests and Levites asked John, “Who are you?” ‘He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, I am not the Christ”’ (John 1:20). Are you Elijah? No. Are you the Prophet foretold by Moses? No. Who are you then?

‘“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”’ (John 1:23)

He confessed that he was not the Christ and that his role was to prepare people for the true Christ.

I spoke in Advent I about the Antichrist. The one who is another Christ, a false Christ. John is the Anti-Antichrist. He will not receive worship. He will not consider himself to be the solution but points to Jesus.

He says, ‘“He must increase, but I must decrease”’ (John 3:30) and therefore his joy is complete (John 3:29).

How can we heed his words?

Realise the truth of this statement, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20)

In one way or another, we are all tempted to try and be God, if not then Godlike: everywhere at once, able to fix everything, knowing everything, and being able to help everyone. It is hard to acknowledge our limitations.

Let us be human. In this there is great joy and peace:

“I am not the Christ.”

What was great about John was that he knew what God had given him to do and he did it faithfully, never confusing himself with the true Christ, to whom he pointed.

What happens when we confuse ourselves, or something else, with the Christ?

Expressive Individualism – Common notion that finding the “true me”, deep inside, and following that intuition will bring happiness. “Be yourself” the mantra of the modern west.

Yet, what does this lead to? Pressure to find within shifting mixture of feelings, intuition and desire the meaning of life. Inevitably unfulfilling. Too great a weight to bear. Brings great anxiety, exacerbated now by internet and social media. Depression, misery.

Current “mental health crisis”: though greatest life expectancy, incredible technology, yet unhappiness has never been greater. Eg. 1/3rd of young women in the UK reporting anxiety and depression and increasing suicide rates among young people and children.

We must recognise that we are not the star of the show. We are one part of a great story. The story is all about Jesus.

Recognising that we are part of this story brings freedom from anxiety (I do not have be the Christ for myself or others), joy at his glory (“Behold, the Lamb of God”), wisdom and direction. We can know who we really are.

Institutional Idolatry – The Church or this church is the most important thing. It is an end in itself and everything must be sacrificed for it.

This leads to empire-building and the exaltation of church leaders. Can lead to compromise, as we put maintaining unity above being faithful to God.

If the institution collapses, our faith is devastated because it was not anchored in Jesus.

Placement student asked me once, “In the midst of institutional crisis, how do you keep passion alive?” Can’t remember how I answered, but I would answer now, “Remembering that it is all about Jesus, his story, his glory, not my own, not the glory of the institution.” ‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to your name give the glory’ (Psalm 115:1)

A word on John’s message –

‘“‘Make straight the way of the Lord’, as the prophet Isaiah said.”’ John 1:23

Imagery from Isaiah 40:3 – levelling of hills and valleys to make Jewish return from exile possible. Here applied to Jesus: make a path available to him.

A call to repentance and faith. Are there hills of pride in your heart? Humble yourself before the Lord. Are there valleys of sin, actions which degrade you and others around you? Repent and be restored to your true humanity.

Gaudete Sunday – “Rejoice!”

Finally, third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday, meaning “rejoice!”

We wear rose coloured vestments as a sign of the joy that is present even in penitential seasons such as Advent.

John the Baptist is a reminder that true joy, true life, comes from knowing the true Christ and rejoicing in his presence.

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