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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Advent 12/14

          In every church, whatever the Sunday School kids do for a Christmas program is always a highlight of the season; there’s kind of a magical quality to the story that children are able to capture better than the rest of us.  There’s more to it than that of course, more than just a magical and somewhat sentimental story, but the Christmas story, however it’s told does have a way evoking a little child like innocence in most of us, and I think that’s a good thing.

          In the gospel lesson I just read though, you probably noticed that there was nothing very obviously Christmas-y about it.  If we depended on John’s gospel for a children’s Christmas program there wouldn’t be much.  It would amount to one child standing all alone with one line: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  That’s it; one sentence about Jesus’ origins.  It’s a great sentence, but still, that’s it. 

If we depended on Mark’s gospel there would be even less in the way of a Christmas program, in fact nothing at all; Mark makes no mention of Jesus’ origins.   So neither Mark, the beginning of whose gospel was the reading for last Sunday, nor John who we heard from today, have anything resembling what we think of as the Christmas story.  But both of them, as well as Matthew and Luke feature John the Baptist who appears every year during these middle two weeks of Advent as the forerunner of Jesus.

          In a way, what we get in today’s gospel lesson from John is not a Christmas pageant but an Advent pageant, a pageant which also would require just one character, a man sent from God whose name is John along with a chorus of voices representing the priests and the Levites, those in authority.

          In this Advent pageant, John has a few lines; he has some things to say, but nothing very specific and little about himself.  The religious authorities want him to say who he is, but all he does is say who he isn’t.  He isn’t the Messiah.  He isn’t Elijah.  He isn’t the prophet like Moses who had long been anticipated.  When pressed further he only quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying that he is the voice, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.”

          In this pageant we get John the Voice, more than we get John the Baptist because in this gospel, John’s vocation is to use his voice to call attention to “the One who is coming after me” as he says, One who those questioning authorities don’t know because they are looking for the wrong things stuck as they are with limited expectation, probably afraid of anything that might be truly different.

          John himself doesn’t know a lot; he doesn’t have much of an explanation of himself, he doesn’t have a proper name for the One who is coming.  He doesn’t know a lot, but unlike the authorities, he has faith, he has trust in what God is doing even if he doesn’t understand it all.  He has enough faith to be the voice, to testify to this One who will transform the world.

          Without knowing a lot, John the Voice had a high level of expectancy concerning the coming One; which is an Advent reminder for us and another place where recapturing something like that sense of childlike innocence would be helpful.

          Past a certain age we lose much of the excitement and anticipation of this time of year and lower our expectations sometimes it seems almost to a sense of dread, looking toward simply “getting through” the holidays and the sense of relief that follows…which is too bad…because the Advent of God promises so much more.  John the Voice expected a lot and the coming One, Jesus, met his announced expectations, transforming the world through who he was and what he did and also through those who experienced him as John anticipated and announced, as the Light of the World. 

          The world was transformed in ways that no one would have thought possible.  The religious world was changed; political empires that seemed like they’d last forever fell and still those transforming followers of Jesus who had eyes to see the possibilities went on, the church they started continued to announce the coming One.  The transformation they started still continues…if we let ourselves see it and experience it. 

John the Voice’s witness during Advent and the Christmas proclamation that will follow in a couple of weeks remind us that God has come into the world and continues to do so and that is a source of joy!  The process of God’s creative transformation goes on and that too is a source of joy even if the process is sometimes hard to see, sometimes hidden in the events of the world.  But with the eyes of children, through the eyes and innocence of children and with the faith and boldness of John the Voice we continue the work that was started a long time ago.  In the midst of the problems of the world we, like John, trust that God is still at work.  We see what is good and we know that the transforming presence of God is real and will guide us through whatever is to come.  With that knowledge we continue to testify to the One, the One who is coming, the One whose Advent we anticipate.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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