ADVENT SEASON WEEK THREE
THE POWER OF A VOICE
A Devotional Reflection on John 1:6-8, 19-28
A few years ago, I received this incredible opportunity to go on what they were calling a “cultural immersion trip” to Malawi, Africa — the fourth poorest country in the world at the time. The purpose of the trip was to go to several different villages throughout northern Malawi, and to simply take it all in, and be immersed — in the culture, in the situation, in the life (and death) of the people there — and to come back to the U.S. to speak about it. The hope was that our words might ignite a fire within the hearts of Christians to do something to help the people of Malawi.
But I don’t think I can adequately relate the agony of simply being a voice when you’re in the midst of people who need help that you can’t give. When I was standing at the edge of a water hole that looked more like a polluted mud puddle, I felt empty-handed as Monica, a mother of many, spoke of the children she had lost because this water had made them sick. When she pointed to the trees beneath which their little bodies were burried, it didn’t feel adequate to tell her that I would tell her story at home and hope that help would eventually make its way to her and her family. But that’s what I was there for — to learn her story, and that’s what I came home for — to tell her story. But in the moment, I had no help to offer.
In this way, I relate to John the baptist as we read today’s passage. He is there to be a voice, not a savior. He has the Holy Spirit living within him, which is a miracle in itself at that time, because before Jesus’ ressurection and assent to heaven, the Holy Spirit was not something that just anyone could have. So John, having the Holy Spirit, has communion with God in a way that only a few prophets throughout history had experienced. Had he not been listening to God about his life’s purpose, he could’ve easily gotten distracted, trying to do the “saving” work himself.
John plainly sees that these people around him need a savior, but he’s listening to God enough to know that he’s simply supposed to be a voice, and to prepare the way for Jesus. He is quick to admit that he is not the Messiah, that he’s not the one who will save them, but that he’s simply there to tell them about the coming Messiah.
As John is among these people who keep listening to his message, giving their lives over to this Messiah who still hasn’t shown Himself, and being baptized with water, I think he becomes more and more anxious for the time of Jesus’ ministry to start. He becomes anxious for help for these people to arrive, and he knows Jesus is the only one who can provide that help.
As I was standing beside Monica, I was desperately wishing I had something to offer her that would save her from more heartache and save her children’s lives. Similarly, John stands there, with his heart going out to the people who are willing to receive the coming Messiah, and he’s anxious for Jesus to make his entrance. When John is asked about it, he tells the religious leaders that “among you stands one you do not know,” (v. 26) and that this “one” is the person that John is talking about and waiting for — the person that he believes will save them.
That is where our joy comes from — the fact that then, and now, Christ is already among us. When John was speaking, Christ was physically among them. For us, He has sent the Holy Spirit so that He is here now in spirit, living among us. If you read the gospels, it is easy to see that Jesus sympathizes with the broken, with the downtrodden, with those who are not high up in society’s ranks. He is with the people who believe in Him. He is with the people that need Him. He is already among us.
If you peek ahead one verse, you see the kind of joy that John has when he sees Jesus and realizes that He is the Messiah, the Savior. When you know that you’re not the one who can bring the help people need, it’s an overwhelmingly joyous occasion when you see the One who CAN bring that help. And Jesus is that One. He is the One who can save.
During Advent, it is a time for us to live in the tension between being a voice that lets people know to repent and prepare for a Savior who will come again and redeem everything, and celebrating in the fact that our Messiah, Jesus, is already among us, and that He is mighty to save. It’s the tension of allowing yourself to be brokenhearted for humanity who needs a Savior, and being overjoyed at seeing Him come! Let us learn from this godly messenger, John, and make sure that we are both being a voice proclaiming Christ, and being the hands and feet of the Holy Spirit, preparing the way for our coming Lord.
ADVENT THEME – THE SHEPHERDS’ CANDLE
Third Sunday of Advent
The third candle of Advent is the Shepherds’ candle, which symbolizes joy. The shepherds were the first of God’s people to receive the news of Jesus’ birth, and it filled them with over-flowing joy. They ran around praising God for what they saw and heard. Our anticipation for what is to come turns to great joy because we know God will come again to judge the darkness and spread the light of joy throughout the whole world. Today we are called to experience and share joy for the Light.1
1) Adapted from Thomas T. Lynch, “Lift Up Your Heads, Rejoice” (1865), Cyber Hymnal, http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/l/u/lupyhrej.htm.