Friday, December 12, 2014

Turtles, Pointing and Fluff (Advent 3, Dec 14 2014)

Homily:  Yr B Advent 3, Dec 14 2014, St. Albans
Readings:  Isaiah 61.1-4,8-11; Ps 126; 1Thess 5.16-24; Jn 1.6-8,29-29

A while ago, as part of my training for ordained ministry, I was fortunate enough to have an internship in the Seychelles Islands.  The Seychelles are a small group of islands way out in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  It’s a special place, and the ocean around the islands is teeming with life.  And among the amazing creatures that are found in the waters of the Seychelles are giant sea turtles.  And I wanted to see them.

One day while I was there, one of the locals took us out in his boat and it was a windy day, there were waves and whitecaps.  And as we were motoring along, our driver said to me all of a sudden, “Look a turtle!”  He was pointing, and I looked in the direction he was pointing, and all I saw was waves and water.  But he kept pointing, and he turned the boat in that direction, and sure enough, when we got close enough, and I mean almost right on top of it, I saw the turtle that he had spotted.  We watched it for a bit, then it went under, and we kept going.   A few minutes later it happened again.  “Look, a turtle!” cried the driver, and I looked and I saw nothing but miles of ocean flecked with whitecaps.  But he kept pointing, and I kept looking, and sure enough when we got close enough, I too could see the turtle.  And that happened over and over again.  By the end of our boat trip we’d seen many turtles, but I only saw them because of our driver who kept pointing at them and bringing us to see them.

Sometimes in order to see things, we need someone to point, someone to let us know where to look.

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify to the light.  He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”

This week in our gospel reading, we again encounter John.  Last week, we met John, as the baptizer, as the voice crying in the wilderness “prepare the way of the Lord”.  We saw John baptizing, we saw John preaching, we saw John gathering crowds and calling for repentance and just living.  But this week, in the fourth Gospel, we see John doing something else, something which is even more important.  We see John as the witness pointing to Jesus.

John came as a witness, as one who testifies, as one who points to Jesus.  He is the one who is able to see God's presence and action standing right in front of him in the person of Jesus.  He is the voice crying out, and that voice cries “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.  Look here he is, here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

John points to Jesus.  Artists throughout the ages have captured this.  In Rembrandt’s painting of John the Baptist, we see John pointing forward with outstretched arm, his whole body leaning towards Jesus, imploring people to turn and see him.

Matthias Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece is even more explicit.  It shows John pointing to Jesus with an oversized index finger.  John points, he is a witness, the one who was sent to testify to the light.

Last Sunday we talked about the call that each one of us receives to “Prepare the way of the Lord” and I asked you to think about the ways that you and I can respond to that call.  We talked about Isaiah’s vision of going on a journey back home, and of removing the obstacles that stand in our way.  We talked about John’s proclamation of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  We talked about the opportunities in our own lives for repentance and forgiveness, for removing obstacles and lifting burdens, for walking together on our journey home to God.  There are many things we can do to prepare the way of the Lord.

But the most important thing that we need to do is to point to Jesus.

You see, we’ve been invited to be active participants in what God is doing, and that is a great joy and a privilege.  But fundamentally we also have to recognize that God is the one who prepares the way, and our most important task is to bear witness to what God is doing, to testify to the light, and to point.  Just like John.

John points to Jesus.  We too are to point to Jesus.  I mean that in two senses.

First, we are to point to Jesus of Nazareth, the Word become flesh, who was born, lived, died and was raised again.  We are to tell his story, the story of how through him, God came to be with us, God was present in the world, and God acted in the world.

But we are also to point to God’s continuing presence and action in the world today.  To the way in which God acts in our lives, to how God continues to be Immanuel, God with us.  Jesus, who was raised, is still with us, inspiring us and teaching us and encouraging us through his Spirit, and we need to point to that.

Because unless we’re pointing, people won’t see.  I can tell you from experience, it’s hard to see turtles.  When I was in that boat in the Seychelles, all I could see was water until someone pointed to the turtles.  It’s a bit like that.

There are many people who don’t see God’s presence and action in their lives.  There are many times when we don’t see it either.  So when you do see it, point.  Articulate it for yourself.  Tell others about it.  Ponder it.  Witness.  Testify.

There is a lot of darkness in our world.  We talked about that two weeks ago.  One of the most important things that we can do for ourselves and for others when things are dark is to point to the light, the light that has come, the light that is coming, the light which shines in the darkness and will not be overcome by the darkness.  Notice it.  See it.  Point to it.

Opportunities abound.  What would happen, for example, if we were to re-imagine this season of Advent and Christmas as a time when we point to Jesus, to God’s presence in the world, to the light that comes into the darkness?

This is a time of year when we do a lot of stuff.  Try asking yourself this question:  how do all the things I do during this time of year point to Jesus?  How can I re-shape them to point to Jesus?  How can I re-imagine them as pointing to God’s presence and action in the world?

Let me try a few examples:

Many of us buy gifts for others at Christmas.  How can you use your gift buying to point to Jesus?  Do you tell people that the reason you give gifts at Christmas is as a way of remembering God’s greatest gift to us, the gift of Jesus to the world?  Does your gift buying witness to the fact that everything you have, your life, your time and your money is a gift from God, and that we are to use all these to do the things that God is calling us to do?  If we did want to point to Jesus with our gifts this Christmas, would that change the sort of gifts we buy and to whom we give them?

Another example:  many of us travel at Christmas.  When you travel, do you use this as a way of recalling the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem?  Do you use this to think about an even greater journey, the journey of God to be present with us in the form of the baby Jesus that first Christmas and in the form of God’s Holy Spirit who is with us this very moment?  How does your travel witness to what God has done for us?

One more:  we often gather for great meals around the table at Christmas.  Even now, some of you are planning, and buying turkeys and doing your baking.  How do our table gatherings point to Jesus?  Do we recall that Jesus made meals and celebrations a key component of his ministry?  Do we use our table gatherings to point to Jesus ministry to the poor and the outcast of society?  Do we practice the reconciliation and forgiveness that Jesus taught as we gather at the table?

The whole point of Advent and Christmas is to point to Jesus.  The rest is just fluff.  John got it right.  How are we doing?


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