Worship

The King Shall Come to Bring Perfect Joy

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Watch the livestream beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.

First Lesson: Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11 (NIV)
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NIV)

Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28 (NIV)

Music:

  • Hymn: CW 327 “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
  • Sunday JAM Anthem: “What a Glorious Night”
  • Hymn of the Day: CW 324 “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You”
  • Hymn: CW 315 “Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord”
  • Hymn: CW 493 “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”

December 17, 2023 (Advent 3)
John 1:6-8, 19-28
“John’s Gospel begins – The greatest gift is Christmas Light”

Being a pastor’s family means that holiday traditions in my household are probably a little different than many of yours, but we have one that I’m guessing many of you hold to also. Each year when our kids were younger, we tried to go out one evening even if it was only for a few minutes to drive around and see the Christmas lights. I asked my 19-year-old about the lights this week and even though it was with less enthusiasm, he still said he enjoys the lights. Christmas lights are one of those traditions that make us smile when we see them.

For many people though, those warm fuzzy feelings at the sight of nicely decorated buildings are as deep as Christmas lights go. How often don’t we fall into thinking of Christmas as a chore – A long list of things to do and things to get ready. That’s like working to put up the Christmas lights without taking the time to enjoy them once they’re up! Our Advent services give us the opportunity to focus our hearts instead of our homes. To see the child in the manger as the center of it all and remember that a Christian Christmas is far simpler than an American one. As I mentioned at the beginning of the service, this third Sunday of Advent has a pink candle instead of blue. This Sunday we take a break to simply be joyful. Joyful the way the shepherds were on the first Christmas night. Joyful the way John the Baptist was at sharing the news of the Savior finally arrived.

Last week we heard Mark begin his account of Jesus’ life by describing John the Baptist – this oddly dressed prophet in the wilderness proclaiming that the Messiah was coming and preaching repentance. Today we see that the Apostle John begins his Gospel in a similar way: he tells us about John the Baptist too. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” John the Baptist is the same preacher Mark described but here his purpose is described a little differently. Mark described him as forerunner. John calls him witness. John the Baptist’s job was to stand in the desert and point people toward the Light of the World. He was testifying about Jesus!. Our gospel writer says, “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.”

We heard last week that John was good at it. Remember? The whole region and all the people of Jerusalem came out to hear what he had to say. But John tells us here that some people had questions for the Baptist. Some of the religious officials from Jerusalem came to John and asked him who he was. Did he claim to be the Christ, the Messiah that Israel had been waiting for? But John told them, “I am not the Christ.” John told them that he wasn’t Elijah either, or the special prophet they had built up in their own imaginations. He told them, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” While we talked last week about John’s message of repentance, we didn’t talk so much about his attitude or character. John the Baptist never lost focus on who he was and just as importantly he never lost focus on Jesus, the Light of the World. No matter how much work he had to do or how many questions he had to answer, his attention was squarely on Christ.

It’s important that we see that and imitate it. You know how easy it is to get distracted, especially at this time of the year. Satan loves to take God’s blessings and turn them into temptations. The blessings of wealth become a trap for people. The blessing of family can lead people away from church. A special talent can become a focus of self instead of service. I don’t think people mean it in some nefarious, evil way, but sometimes I think our Christmas celebrations have become as harmful as they might be helpful. A fellow pastor said once, “Christmas is that magical time when Christians skip church to put up Christmas lights.” The devil tricks too many people into thinking about Christmas without thinking about Christ. There is so much to do, so much to think about. We’ve got to decorate the house, shop for presents, plan the meals, decide to travel or not to travel… No wonder so many people get burned out and worn out at Christmastime.

If you’re tired of Christmas it’s because you’re looking at the wrong Christmas lights. Sure the decorating and shopping and all of that sparkles nicely in the darkness, and the world tells us that’s the light we should be enjoying right now, but those lights only dazzle the deluded, and only for a little while at that. In the church the twelve days of Christmas start on December 25th – everywhere else Christmas is over when the clock strikes midnight. So instead of putting your energy into the twinkling LED strings of the world, consider refocusing on the brilliant radiance streaming from the Light of the World, Jesus.

The whole world is talking about Christmas right now, but not enough are talking about Christ. There are plenty of ads for shopping. Lots of talk about holiday gatherings. Lots of sappy, schmaltzy articles about family and love. But where are the advertisements about Jesus? The banners and billboards that tell the full story of a child born for the purpose of dying? The reminders of the cross behind the cradle. The dire need of sinners for a substitute to take away hell itself. That’s the real Christmas truth, and you won’t find it out there. No the only worthwhile advertisements for Christmas are the ones in this room. Sitting in these pews. The advertisements for Christ are you. Long ago, there at the Jordan river, 20 miles out of Jerusalem, it was John the Baptist. He was the witness who testified concerning the light of the world. Now, it’s you.

What does it mean to be a witness? It means, first of all, living an openly Christian lifestyle in front of the people around you. At work, at school, wherever you are. It means that you do what our second Scripture reading talks about – Rejoicing always, a person of prayer, thankful in every circumstance. A Christian witness of light is honest and sincere and loving and generous and helpful. None of us will do it perfectly, of course. “Always joyful” is a high bar. But a more Christian focus always leads to a more Christian lifestyle. This Christmas rejoice in the substance of Scripture. Jesus came to turn our darkness to light. He became human to take away your sin. He is the reason God forgives you. You are a walking, talking billboard for Jesus. And while witnessing may be an outward thing, it starts with a heart of joy in Christ’s light.

A witness doesn’t make it about themselves – how much they know or how much better they are. John the Baptist had plenty of knowledge, and had ample opportunities to make more of himself than he should have. But what does it say here? Verse 20: “He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’” Too often we consider our role in Jesus’ work too much. Yes, you’re an imperfect messenger. So am I and so was John. But trust that the Spirit will work through you when he tells you that’s exactly what he will do. When God gives an opportunity, share what’s in your heart. When someone says to you, “I always feel so stressed out during the holidays. I can’t wait till it’s over.” Be a witness and tell them, “nothing about Christmas matters but that baby in the manger. My Christmas is perfect not because I got everything on my list done, but because Jesus did everything important already. Share that simple truth and you’re a brighter display of Christmas light than any show in Somerset or the St. Paul.

Imitate John when you witness. When the Pharisees came to him in the desert and tried to make more of him than he was, he just pointed to Jesus. John says, “Among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” Well, the one they didn’t know – we do. We know the Savior who watches us like a loving shepherd. The One who healed the blind. Loved the outcast. Fed the hungry. Delivered disciples from danger. The Messiah who lived perfectly for us. And died innocently in our place. The King who rose in victory over death itself at Easter. Yes, we know what’s behind the nativities and gifts and lights and tinsel. We know the true Christmas – Salvation to sinners through God made man.

At this crazy time when everyone is wrapped up in a thousand “Christmas” concerns, we are blessed to be wrapped up in Christ. Where can you find joy in a busy Christmas season? Not out there with the lights and the ornaments and the bows and the busyness. No, find joy this Christmas in the one Light that matters, the Light of the World, Jesus. Bask in the glow of that light. Let it shine in your heart and in your life. We are a week away from celebrating once again – not Christmas, but Christ. To him be the glory. Amen.

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