Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland, on John 1: 1 – 18, Sunday, January 5, 2014. Focus on the essential element that waiting brings – a choice between light and darkness.
It must have been hard being John. There he was, set apart by God to do one single thing with his life – to proclaim the coming one – and yet he didn’t have a name to shout out loud. He didn’t know who he was waiting for or exactly when he was coming. He didn’t know whether to watch the sky or the earth for the coming one. He didn’t know if he would be coming in a chariot of fire or if he would be coming incognito.
And the net effect of all this unknowing was that John didn’t know who he was himself either. Are you the Messiah? No. I’m not. Are you Elijah? No. I’m not. Are you a prophet? No. Who are you then? I’m just a voice crying out in the wilderness. “Make straight the way of the Lord…. The one you do not know…. The one who is coming after me.”
And until that one came, John’s life was just one long Advent, a lifetime of waiting, waiting in the dark for the light, waiting without knowing for the one thing that would change everything. He couldn’t name it but he knew it was coming, and that knowledge alone was enough to make the wait worthwhile.
On the whole we human beings are not very good at waiting. We prefer to reach out and grasp what we want – either that or cross it off our list – but the truth is that sometimes its not there to be grasped. Maybe it’s a dream of the future that is still a long way off – A hope of who you’ll become or who your children will become.
But in any case waiting means one thing. We’re not in charge. It’s designed that way to remind us of our limits. We like doing, earning, buying, selling, building, planting, driving, making things happen, whereas waiting is essentially a matter of being – stopping, sitting, listening, looking, breathing, wondering, praying.
Waiting is a feeling akin to hopelessness and yet waiting is an essential part of the Christian life. We say it every time we celebrate communion. We proclaim the Lord’s death and resurrection until he comes to be with us again. This is the mystery of our faith – we are always waiting for Christ to come to us even though we believe that he has already come. Has he already come? Yes! Will he come again? Yes! Is he hear right now? Yes. Well then, which is it? It’s all of the above.
And what this says to me is that our waiting is not in vain. It’s something – a very big something – because people tend to be shaped by whatever it is they are waiting for.
Have you noticed that? When you want something really badly, your whole life tends to rearrange itself around that thing you want. For one person it might be a baby, for someone else a house. When I was a teenager, it was independence that I waited for – my own life by my own rules – and when I got that, it was a vocation I wanted – a clear sense of direction for my life. I waited years for that calling to come and after that years more for a relationship with one other person that would last. And today I wait for wisdom and enlightenment.
How about you? What are you waiting for, and how is it shaping your life? Are you waiting for certainty, for healing, for love? Are you waiting for recognition, for retirement, for enough money to pay the bills? How about peace and justice on earth or an end war?
Whatever you are waiting for, chances are that it has something to do with your vision of what it would mean for you to be made whole, to be transformed into a person who is not afraid any more, whose basic needs are met and whose wounds are healed and to be loved and to be able to love back.
The renowned nineteenth century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon on the Incarnation, expressed his understanding of John’s prologue this way:
“GOD had made many visits to (humanity) before Christ’s Incarnation, but the most wonderful, visit of all was when He came to tarry here, some three and thirty years, to work out our salvation. What but “tender mercy,” hearty mercy, intense mercy, could bring the great God to visit us so closely that He actually assumed our nature?
Kings may, for various reasons, visit their subjects; but they do not think of taking upon themselves their poverty, their sickness, or their sorrow. They could not if they would, and they would not if they could; but our Divine Lord, when He came hither, took upon Him our flesh.
He did not come to earth just to pay us a passing visit, but He dwelt among us in this world of sin and sorrow. This great Prince entered our abode – wherein our poor humanity finds its home for a season.
This little planet of ours was made to burn with a superior light among its sister stars while the Creator sojourned here in human form.”
Like John we may be short on the details of how God is coming into our lives, but we are not short on hope or wonder over this mystery.
For whatever happens to us while we are waiting, however dark it may seem, this is what we believe – the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not over come it. Amen