Preached by Fr. Paul Allick on Advent III (Sunday, December 17, 2017)

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


In this time of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany we hear stories from the Gospels. That is, we don’t hear Jesus teachings we hear stories about how he came into the world and what the Incarnation means.


It is easy to not really digest these stories anymore. We’ve heard them so often. Many of them are so connected to the superficial “holiday season” that they become like Fairy Tales rather than the earth shattering revelation they really are.


When we start walking with Jesus we aren’t skipping down a primrose path. We are playing with fire. We are reminded of that again today.


There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.


The word used here for “sent” in Greek is the verb, “apostello.” It means to be sent or dismissed. It is where we get the word, “apostle.” It is the same word the risen Christ speaks to the disciples in the upper room, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)


John was sent to witness to the identity of Jesus. The word for witness here is the same as martyr. That is what the word, “martyr”, means: to witness.


John has his work cut out for him: being sent (apostello) to witness (martyrdom) on behalf of Jesus. Thus, he begins baptizing people to get them ready for the arrival of Jesus.


Naturally the civic and religious leaders want to know what John is up to. A group of Pharisees, that would be the progressive religious reformers, send some clergy to ask him who he is.


He is not the messiah. He is not Elijah or the prophet. He has been sent to make a way for something and someone much greater. John is baptizing with water but the one coming is going to baptize with fire and the Spirit and turn the universe on its head.

This isn’t about John; this is about Jesus. Later in this Gospel John’s disciples come to him with concerns because Jesus’ disciples are baptizing now and more people are going to them. John is not concerned; this was the plan all along. John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:29-30)


This is where all Christians ought to keep their focus: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The Church falls into thinking that this is all about us; that what we do here is about self-preservation. As if the institution we use to function as the Church was the point and not simply an instrument to bring people to Christ. 


The Catechism tells us that a focus of our ministry is to witness (martyr) to Christ wherever we may be. (Book of Common Prayer, p.855)


A formal dismissal is given at the end of the Mass. That isn’t the cue to go to the reception or coffee hour.


The word for dismissal in Latin is actually related to the Greek word, “apostello.” The dismissal tells us to go now and get to work. We have gathered to renew our minds, hearts and souls. Now we go out to be disciples of Jesus.


Fr. Lee Mitchell in his book, “Praying Shapes Believing”, explains, “The dismissal asserts the relationship between liturgy and Christian living. It is a call to mission…witnessing to the power of the risen Christ in daily living - a call to live the baptismal and Eucharistic life in the world.” (Morehouse Publishing, 1985, p.182)


These days of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are days of revelation. These stories are not fairy tales. The characters are not perfect pious people who never made mistakes, never got sad, angry, confused or scared.


They were called and sent just like we are. Joseph and Mary took huge risks to follow God’s plan and to be parents to Jesus. Elizabeth and Zechariah had their lives turned upside down in order to bring about the birth of John. The shepherds risked being ridiculed and ignored to proclaim the birth of the messiah. The magi from the east and John the Baptist risked their lives to witness to the truth they saw revealed in Jesus.


We have no time for fairy tales. The day of salvation is now. The Lord has stirred up his power and come among us. We are not called to gather here only for our own wellbeing. We are called to gather here so that we have the spiritual nourishment to go out and reconcile all people to God and each other in Christ.


That would be a Merry Christmas indeed if we could bring some real peace on earth in the Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.