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.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 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. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Let the Light Shine Through
December 17, 2017: Advent 3B
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Savannah, GA
The Rev. Helen White
Good morning! It’s wonderful to be here today. My family and I moved back to the Diocese of Georgia in 2008 so I have been a fan of St. Matthew’s for 9 years now. I am also a fan of your priest-in-charge and wanted to support him during this time of loss, travel and Christmas preparation. It’s certainly a blessing to be here.
Today is the third Sunday in the season of Advent. Advent is a time of intentionality. Unlike the culture surrounding us, we don’t race to the manger in Bethlehem. Instead, we say, no thank you, we want the slow-ride, the long walk, the holy pilgrimage toward the baby. Our Advent liturgy and practices encourage wonder, mystery, patience, waiting, because we want to be ready. We want to be centered, clear, and present, when we kneel before the holy child. And today, John the Baptist is a most excellent Advent guide. You can just imagine him driving one of those slow-rides in downtown Savannah! He shows us how it is done, and, best of all, he leads by example. As the Gospel writer says about John: He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
How can we follow John’s lead? How can we have the courage to live boldly, but not with the primary intent of drawing attention to ourselves. How can we be witnesses to the light of the world— that beautiful, fragile, yet all powerful baby lying in a manger?
My husband and I serve in ministry at Christ Church. We have been part of that congregation for these past 9 years, though I have also served at St. George’s, on the South Side of Savannah, and All Saints' on Tybee Island. Each congregation has its own lovely way of reflecting the Light, spiritually and physically. The congregation of Christ Church dwells in an historic building downtown on Johnson Square. The building is built in the Neo-classical style— it was completed in the late 1830s. There is a lot of natural light and simplicity to the architecture and church decor. However the primary window, over the Head Altar, is a huge stained-glass depiction of Jesus’s ascension. We have been in the process of restoring the stained-glass. You may have seen the article in the newspaper yesterday. It’s been interesting to learn about the art form of stained glass from this project.
Each piece of glass is actually 3 layers, so potentially there are 6 surfaces that attract dirt and dust over the years. The Christ Church window has never been cleaned, so you can imagine the grime! Also, there was a fiberglass protector placed on the outside of the window some time back. Though the intention was good, the fiberglass became more like a dirty shield, trapping in heat and moisture, that was causing all the wood to rot. The Ascension Window needed cleaning in order to let the light shine through— the entire purposed of the stained glass.
I love this physical analogy for our spiritual task for Advent. We are each created with unique gifts and abilities to share. But over the years, the layers of our lives get covered by hurt, resentment, fatigue, anger, illness— lots of dirt! And some of us have even put up an entire fiberglass wall— we think it is offering protection but instead we have all sorts of rot going on beneath. Like John the Baptist, we want to proclaim to others: Prepare the way of the Lord— make straight the pathways for our God!
Like John the Baptist— we want our lives to be living testaments to the light. And yet, we are so full of grime and soot that the light is just not shining through. Advent is a time to take on our personal stained-glass project. To remove the exquisite colored pieces that create the mosaic of our lives, our souls, our spirits. To carefully and lovingness get in there and scrub that dirt and grime away. Our goal is not to be the shiniest ornament on the tree, or the brightest star in Hollywood. Instead we want to be clean and clear, so that the light of Christ may shine through our lives. John the Baptist could have taken his moment in the sun to grab all the power he could stand. But instead he continually pointed toward Jesus, acknowledging that he, himself, was not worthy to untie the shoes on Jesus’ feet. Leadership and humility— it is a possible combination. And we are called to be servant leaders— In our families, in our marriages, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods. Each of us represents a gorgeous mosaic of story and spirit that can inspire others.
During this Advent, on this Sunday some folks call “stir-up” Sunday, let’s get out the windex, even use a toothbrush if needed. Or even call in the stained-glass professionals— the counselors, the doctors, the ministers, our close friends— to help free us from the layers of dirt and grime and hurt and pain and worry and despair that block the light of Christ from shining through our lives.
Let us pray our Collect for today: "Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory now and for ever. Amen." (Book of Common Prayer, p. 212).