Who Am I? Who Are You?
a sermon based on John 1:6-8, 19-28
by Rev. Randy Quinn
One of the "ice-breaker" games
I've played in youth settings is called "Two Truths and a Lie." In this
game, you say three things about yourself two of which are true and
one of which is not true. Then everyone has to guess which one is not
I almost always win
because my "truths" are so unbelievable that my "lies" sound truthful.
My "truths" include things like, "my grandson is older than my son" and
"I spent 120 days under the water once"; my "lies" include things like "when I was in the Navy I visited four foreign countries" and
"I was born ten miles from where my parents now live."
Until you ask a few more
questions, you may not know what to think. And it's hard to figure it
all out with yes-or-no questions because there is so much gray area in
the "truths" as well as the "lies." Our daughter my grandson's mother
is older than my son, too. And I spent those 120 days in a submarine
under the water but our submarine never stopped in a foreign port.
I've heard that lawyers
never ask a question unless they already know the answer. I don't know
if that's entirely true, but I do know that lawyers in television
courtrooms have a reputation for asking questions in a way that makes an
honest answer seem to say something that isn't true. When you know the
whole story, you want to explain it a little so that the answer doesn't
sound so dishonest.
That's the problem with
yes-or-no questions, especially in complicated circumstances. Simple
answers don't necessarily shed light on difficult problems.
John seems to be playing
"twenty questions" with the Levites and priests and Pharisees. Of
course, some of it has to do with the way the questions are asked.
you the Christ? Are you Elijah? Are you the prophet?" (Jn 1:21).
None of those questions
really allow him to say who he is.
I am not a police
officer. I am not a school teacher. I am not a sanitation engineer. I
am not a car salesman. I am not a lawyer. I am not a lot of things.
But those facts don't help you figure out that I am a pastor or I
am a parent or I am an American citizen.
But even those labels
don't really convey who I am. No one label can ever describe any of
us. We are too complex; we fill too many roles; who any of us is cannot
be captured in one sentence, let alone one word!
And that is no less true
of John the Baptist.
All four of the gospel
writers knew of John the Baptist. All four gospels devote some space to
describe John's ministry. And all four gospel writers give the clear
impression that the story of John the Baptist serves as an introduction
to the story of Jesus; the real story of their gospels is about Jesus,
not John the Baptist.
Of course each Gospel
writer has his own way of the telling the story, not only the
story of Jesus but also the story of John the Baptist. And each Gospel
writer's style places the reader in a different position whether that
is as a member of the crowd as is often the case in Luke or as the
observer who is told the truth about Jesus while most of the characters
in the story don't recognize that truth as seems to be the case in Mark.
As I read the Gospel of
John, I am struck by the possibility that he tells the story of John the
Baptist in a way that suggests you and I are now in the role of John the
Baptist. We are the ones who now give testimony to the light of the
world so that others might believe in him (Jn 1:6). We are the ones who
are to prepare the way of the Lord (Jn 1:23). We are the ones who can
look around and see that Christ is among us even though others may not
recognize him in our midst (Jn 1:26).
John, the Evangelist,
often reminds the readers of why he has written his Gospel (implied in
many cases; specific at Jn 20:31). Throughout his narrative, the
readers are reminded to point to Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Light
of the World (1 Jn 1:2-5).
As we approach Christmas,
that role is even more important to fulfill. But it is both more
difficult to share and more easily told. It is made more difficult by a
world that has buried the story of Christmas in the economic impact of
shopping and shoppers. It is made more difficult in a society that
tries to remember not only the Christian holiday of Christmas but the
Muslim holiday of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and the
Buddhist celebration of Buddha's birth and the celebration of Kwanza and
the pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.
At the same time, this is
a time of year when people are looking for meaning in their lives as
they rush from one party to another and from one store to another so
they may be more open to hearing the story of Jesus. It's a time of
year when people begin to wonder why they spend the time and energy
going from home to home and both why they need to and what they will do
with the children who will soon be home from school so they may be
more willing to listen to our testimony.
I know it's easy to become
cynical at this time of the year. It's easy to point out the ways
people around us have missed the point of the story. It's easy to point
out that most people's understanding of Christmas comes from Christmas
carols and Christmas cards rather than from reading the story in their
I know it's easy because
I've found myself cynically pointing out the errors I see all over the
place. Whether we are talking about including donkeys and sheep and
three kings with the crθche or overemphasizing the role of Saint
Nicholas, I often find it almost offensive the way people celebrate
Christmas since none of those are truly Biblical images.
But when we become that
cynical we are more like the interrogators who came to see John the
Baptist and less like the Baptist himself. Rather than asking questions
of John, our role is to look at how we might be able to tell the story
to our world today to our friends and neighbors, to our family and
strangers. John did not come to tell his story or to straighten out the
theology of the priests and the Levites. He came to point toward Jesus
as the answer to their questions, the one who could offer them eternal
In order to do that
effectively in our world today, we might find ourselves using the tools
of storytellers and poets and songwriters the same ones who use
donkeys and sheep and camels and Santa as a way to invite us into the
story. Or we may find ourselves joining other story tellers and artists
who include other local and native animals and plants like Zebras from
Africa or poinsettias from Mexico or Holly from northern Europe.
When we realize that John
the Baptist is merely a witness to Christ, it becomes clear that his
role is our role. We have a duty and an obligation to
bear witness to the same Christ who lives among us.
If the story of Jesus is
to be told this year, it is up to us. We are the new "voice[s] in the
wilderness" who are preparing the way for Christ. How receptive our
world is to that message depends in large part upon the way we open
doors and hearts and minds.
For the good news is that
Jesus was born. Christ is here now.
Thanks be to God. Amen.