Third Sunday of Advent
December 11, 2012
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126 (3) or Luke 1:46b-55 (52)
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Prayer of the Day
Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the words of your prophets, that, anointed by your Spirit, we may testify to your light; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Alleluia. I am sending my messen- | ger before you,
who will prepare your | way before you. Alleluia. (Matt. 11:10)
1a. Context: Jn. 1:6-8, 19-28
The gospel lesson for today describes two interviews with John in which he explains that he himself is not the foretold messiah nor is he another “Elijah.” It seems clear from the gospels that John did not have a full understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ coming. So it should not surprise that his followers or supporters might misunderstand his role or his connection with Jesus. Some who accepted the role of Messiah for Jesus also claimed that John was a kind of “Elijah” who looked to the coming of the Day of the Lord, the day of judgment (cf. Malachi 3:1, 4:5). The reference to Elijah in Malachi 3 describes as the “malakh” or messenger of the Lord, who was coming to cleanse the priesthood of which he himself was a member , teacher and keeper of the sacred Torah. Ultimately he is expected to serve as a reconciler turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, in other words making peace among the various groups emerging within Jewish religion and culture (cf. Jubilees 23:16ff.). Prophetic eschatology associated various signs of the times with the return of the prophet Elijah to preach a message of repentance before the “great and terrible Day of the Lord.” Such signs include the turning of the sun to darkness or the moon to blood, portents which according to Joel 2 were to impel persons to repentance.
It seems odd here that John the Baptist disavows the priestly claim to be another “Elijah” since elsewhere that title appears conferred on him by Jesus (cf. Matt. 17.10f.; Mark 9.12, Matt. 11.7f.; cf. Luke 1.17, Mal. 4.5f., Sirach 48.10). Possibly this has something to do with the unique way in which John relates Jesus and the Baptizer.
In the synoptics, John is arrested and cast into prison before the onset of the public ministry of Jesus. In John, however, Jesus begins his ministry before the arrest of John. John, however, uses the prologue to clarify this relationship, thus avoiding any possibility of confusion between Christ and the forerunner (1:6-8). That this confusion is not only possible but actually occurred is shown by the fact that Herod believed that Jesus might be a John the Baptist resurrected: “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised” (Mark 6.16).
1b. Text: Jn. 1:6-8, 19-28
Jn. 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 1:7 He
came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 1:8 He
himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.....
1:19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and
Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" 1:20 He confessed and did not
deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." 1:21 And they asked him, "What
then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No."
1:22 Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who
sent us. What do you say about yourself?" 1:23 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. 1:24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 1:25 They asked
him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the
prophet?" 1:26 John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one
whom you do not know, 1:27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." 1:28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
6εγενετο ανθρωπος απεσταλμενος παρα θεου, ονομα αυτω ιωαννης: 7ουτος ηλθεν εις μαρτυριαν, ινα μαρτυρηση περι του φωτος, ινα παντες πιστευσωσιν δι αυτου. 8ουκ ην εκεινος το φως, αλλ ινα μαρτυρηση περι του φωτος....
19και αυτη εστιν η μαρτυρια του ιωαννου, οτε απεστειλαν [προς αυτον] οι ιουδαιοι εξ ιεροσολυμων ιερεις και λευιτας ινα ερωτησωσιν αυτον, συ τις ει; 20και ωμολογησεν και ουκ ηρνησατο, και ωμολογησεν οτι εγω ουκ ειμι ο χριστος. 21και ηρωτησαν αυτον, τι ουν; συ ηλιας ει; και λεγει, ουκ ειμι. ο προφητης ει συ; και απεκριθη, ου. 22ειπαν ουν αυτω, τις ει; ινα αποκρισιν δωμεν τοις πεμψασιν ημας: τι λεγεις περι σεαυτου; 23εφη, εγω φωνη βοωντος εν τη ερημω, ευθυνατε την οδον κυριου, καθως ειπεν ησαιας ο προφητης. 24και απεσταλμενοι ησαν εκ των φαρισαιων. 25και ηρωτησαν αυτον και ειπαν αυτω, τι ουν βαπτιζεις ει συ ουκ ει ο χριστος ουδε ηλιας ουδε ο προφητης; 26απεκριθη αυτοις ο ιωαννης λεγων, εγω βαπτιζω εν υδατι: μεσος υμων εστηκεν ον υμεις ουκ οιδατε, 27ο οπισω μου ερχομενος, ου ουκ ειμι [εγω] αξιος ινα λυσω αυτου τον ιμαντα του υποδηματος. 28ταυτα εν βηθανια εγενετο περαν του ιορδανου, οπου ην ο ιωαννης βαπτιζων.
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition © 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft,
The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition © 1975, United Bible Societies, London
2. Analysis: Jn. 1:6-8, 19-28
vs. 7 - hina martyreisei peri tou photos - as a witness to the light
vs. 9 - photizoo - to give light, illuminate or shine light -
vs. 19 - hereus - priest
vs. 20 - homologeoo - to confess, agree to ; vs. 20 - arneomai - to deny
vs. 22 - apokrisis - answer
vs. 23 - ephei - to declare or say ; vs. 23 - boaoo - to cry
vs. 23 - ereimos - wilderness or desert ; vs. 23 - euthunoo - to make straight
vs. 26 - streikoo - to stand ; vs. 26 - oida - to see or know
vs. 27 - aksios - worthy or fitting
vs. 29 - epaurion - tomorrow, the morrow
vs. 29 - ide amnos tou theou ho airoon tein hamartian tou kosmou - behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world
For the Fourth Gospel the emphasis is not limited to the role of the Baptist as forerunner or prophetic figure or non-light (vs. 8). It also is inclusive of John’s role as witness (martyrion) to the light “so that all might believe through him.” Next the evangelist explains exactly how the Baptist witnesses to the light by describing his testimony when asked the question “Who are you?” (cf. Jn. 8:25 and 21:12). It is tempting to see in these question a deeply psychological probing, but John’s answers are rather matter-of-fact. He tells his questioners whom he is NOT. He is neither the anointed messiah nor Elijah nor the prophet of old (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15ff.). Rather he is the " voice of one crying out in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord..’ “ In short, he is both herald and forerunner, one who comes before that One who is yet to come. On the other hand, this form of Johannine questioning clearly resembles the famous “ego eimi” sayings of Jesus which appear throughout John. The main difference is that the “I am” sayings of John the Baptist take the form of “I am NOT” sayings, in which John unequivocally refuses any of the titles which are reserved to the Lord.
The Baptist has abruptly appeared in the Fourth Gospel--coming almost out of nowhere. It seems self-evident that the evangelist felt compelled to clarify John’s relation to Christ, probably for the benefit of his surviving disciples apart from the rest of the Christian community. It is worth noting that the arrival of the questioners is not supported by the synoptic gospels, yet it is not incompatible with similar passages in Mark 1:5 and Matthew 3:7, both of which note tension between the Jewish leadership and John the Baptist. The uniqueness of John’s approach here is underscored by his term “priests and Levites” which appears nowhere else and which is more specific in tone that the term for “the Jews” usually mentioned in John’s gospel. That John the Evangelist has in mind something clearly Jewish in origin in this passage is reinforced again in the phrase the “Lamb of God who takes away sins of the world.” Though a liturgical term evoking the Paschal lamb for Christians today, the Agnus Dei is more likely understood by John the Baptist to be the Suffering Servant foretold in Isaiah 53:12 (cf. John 12:38).
3. Strategy: Jn. 1:6-8, 19-28
One of the most frustrating challenges of the Advent Season is the continual back and forth, the ebbing and racing flow of time which flows through the season pulling us forward yet pushing us back to the Ancients with the force of an undercurrent and riptide. The result of this is that some worshipers are almost confused and befuddled by the meaning of the season, a confusion obviously reinforced by the “realized eschatology” of the marketplace, where St. Nicholas arrived months ago.
Now, to some extent, this is harmless enough. For those of us in the Church, the coming of John the Baptist is but the penultimate phase in the emergence of the ministry of Jesus Christ. But the important point is not OUR “mood” of “expectation” or OUR “waiting”( probably the most overworked among the many Advent themes). The focus is primarily upon John’s “mood,” John’s “waiting,” John’s “expectation.” And that mood comes close to the one expressed later by Jesus in Mark 3:19--22
(cf. John 3:27-30). The best we can do is speculate about the the personal understanding John had of the meaning of Christ’s coming. Yet there is this poignant mention which implies that he saw himself as one who could let go of his own importance in order that another one might and grow.
From a purely human standpoint, this seems almost to be the vantage point of a nurturer, a mothering figure. It may strike us as odd that the the “mothering” one here is not Mary, but John. For we have been over our lifetimes conditioned to think of him as a sort of wilderness wildman. This “masculine” approach seems to come naturally to us as Americans, with our history of Cooper’s Natty Bumppo, history’s Daniel Boone, the Disney version of Davy Crockett and more recently the character “Sully” on television’s “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.” Perhaps the danger in this is that we settle for this “masculine” forerunner and yet often settle as well for a non-masculine
Jesus. In these latter days of “politically correct” theology, this has become even more
sensitive an issue than ever before. Yet we should not be afraid of the way in which tends to move in its own unique way between genders. Without question John’s story is intimately intertwined with that of Mary through his mother Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:5-45). Thus it should not surprise us if John appears as one who can say, as every mothering figure has spoken through actions (or even words): they (my offspring) must increase, and I must decrease. This is a form of nurturing which is not necessarily gender-bound. Think of the father of the lanky teenage son who gradually hands off favorite pieces of his wardrobe to the next generation in the family. Or the mother who gives up some special treasure in order that her daughter (or son) might have an especially wonderful time of growth and development. We make sacrifices, we do. They may not be “sacrifices” as our Lord would have us understand them, yet we may be “letting go” of something in ourselves in order to make room for the growth of another person. Ultimately, the mother is the purest symbol of this in her allowing the new child to actually dwell inside her body, making room for her in the womb.
It is symbolic not just of giving up a bit of physical real estate for another (as it is often wrongly stated in the abortion debate) but a very “literal” letting go of some aspect of one’s self and ego in other that a new self might emerge. Again, this is not strictly a matter of gender. A good parent, ought to have the gift of nurturing, caring and giving of themselves.
Decades ago James Dittes of Yale Divinity School wrote a remarkable book on what he termed the “Male Predicament.” In it he spoke of the phenomenon of “frozen Joseph” among in the church. He described to the usual role of Joseph in the local parish Christmas pageant as one who merely stands, almost paralyzed and immobile, in waiting for Mary and the child. The image is a striking one, for in so many ways it fits hand and glove with the role which we in the church often hand on to the next generation of young boys and young men. Often they see little place for themselves in the activities of the church. What a far cry from an earlier era when “men’s clubs” and “guilds” and “dartball leagues” and all the rest of the social trappings of maleness made for a church which was far more in keeping with hymns like “Rise up, O Men of God!” and cetera. The point here is not misogyny or to turn back the clock of patriarchal religion. The point is that there IS a place for both the “wild man” John the Baptist in our faith as well as the one who is so very unassuming and accepting of his role as one baptizing with “mere” water, in anticipation of “the one who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” Perhaps in the simple tying and untying of the shoes of a little child we have the image for this text and this day and for all our endless waiting for Christ. It is an image which fits with the mothering, fathering, parenting, or in other words the adult nurturing role of who will one day “decrease” in order that another might increase and grow. It it an image which fits hand and glove, shoe and stocking with the tried and true image of a John the Baptizer who is both waiting AND witnessing in word and in deed.
4. References: Jn. 1:6-8, 19-28
Brown, Raymond. An Adult Christ at Christmas. Collegville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1978.
Brown, Raymond. A Coming Christ in Advent. Collegeville, Minn. Liturgical Press, 1988.
Dittes, James. The Male Predicament. New York: Harper and Row, 1983.
Mann, C.S. Mark. Anchor Bible, vol. 27. Garden City,NY: Doubleday, 1986.
5. Music Suggestions: Jn. 1:6-8, 19-28
Many of the suggestions from Advent 2 carry over, along with some new ones:
Comfort, comfort now my people (LBW 29, HB 67)
Creator of the Stars of Night (HB 60)
Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding (LBW 37)
Hark, the Glad Sound (LBW 35, HB 71/2)
Herald, sound the note of judgment! (HB 70)
Lo! he comes, with clouds descending (HB 57-8)
O Lord, How Shall I Meet You (LBW 23)
Once he came in blessing (HB 53)
On Jordan’s banks the Baptist’s cry (LBW 36, HB 76)
Prepare the royal highway (LBW 26)
Prepare the way, O Zion (HB 65)
The Advent of our God (LBW 22)
The only son from heaven (LBW 86)
There’s a voice in the wilderness crying (HB 75)
What is the crying at Jordan? (HB 69) - This is a particularly beautiful text by Carol Drake (b. 1933) sung to an Irish melody. It captures the urgency of the Markan text.
Gathering: ELW 259 - Fling Wide the Door - LBW 32 The Day: ELW 239 - Hark, the glad sound! - LBW 35 Wreath: ELW Light 3 Candles to Watch for Messiah - 240 (vs. 3) Offertory: ELW 294 - In the Bleak Mid-Winter - vs. 3 Communion: ELW 266 - All earth is hopeful – 266 [ OR 243, 501, or 726] Sending: ELW 538 - The Lord Now Sends us Forth – [ OR 248 or 543]
Exegete - David A. Buehler, PhD. Editor, MacAdemia™
LEXEGETE © 2011