22 December 2008

Advent 3 - Who are you? - Sermon

Advent 3B - Who are you?

By Stuart Pike

St. Andrew’s Church

11 December, 2005

 You could be forgiven for thinking that you were experiencing some sort of deja vu while you were listening to today’s Gospel reading. Come again? Didn’t we have that reading last Sunday?

Well the quick answer is: almost! Today we have the story of John the Baptist from the point of view of the Gospel of John. Last week we had the same story from the point of view of the Gospel of Mark! Big difference, right? It is a challenge for the preacher.

So I thought I would ask the question, what is the difference between last week’s lesson and this week’s? Both have the reference to Isaiah’s prophecy of the one crying out, “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” Both have John referring to one coming after him and John says that he is not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.

The main difference is that in today’s reading from John, we have some new characters who have shown up: the Priests and Levites. They are the religious heavies, who have been sent out to investigate John. They have been sent out from the temple in Jerusalem. This baptizer, John, is intruding in on their turf. No one else is supposed to be a religious force in Israel; just who does he think he is?

So they send them out to find out just that:

“Who are you,” they ask.

Who are you? It’s quite a question. Would we know how to answer it? Who am I? What do you stand for? What is important to you? Why are you here?

Who are you includes all of those questions and more. What is your essence? It is a good question to ask yourself during Advent. There might be people who want to know, or need to know. Maybe you need to know who you really are.

When I went to an Advent retreat a couple of years ago, the monk who lead the retreat asked us to consider who we really are. He sent us to meditate on a poem by R.L. Sharpe:

   Isn't it strange how princes and kings,

   and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,

   and common people, like you and me,

   are builders for eternity?

   Each is given a list of rules;

   a shapeless mass; a bag of tools.

   And each must fashion, ere life is flown,

   A stumbling block, or a Stepping-Stone.

            By R.L. Sharpe

That’s really what our lives are about isn’t it? It’s about taking the shapeless mass of ourselves and forming it into a shape. That shape is always about how we are in relationship to others. Will we turnout to be for others a stumbling block? Or a stepping-stone? If we are to be a stepping stone, then can we not be a part of Isaiah’s highway which makes a straight path for the Lord?

It sounds too grandiose doesn’t it? Surely we need to be more humble than this, don’t we?

I remember when Nelson Mandela was made President of South Africa after years of imprisonment under the Apartheid rule. His speech was also about asking the question, “Who am I?” He quoted Marrianne Williamson when he said:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. Thee's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

(Marianne Williamson, quoted by Nelson Mandela)

Ask yourself the question posed to John the Baptist: who are you? When you know who you are, you also realize whose you are.

How have you been fashioning your life? What shape is it?

As the darkening days of Advent draw ever closer to the light of Christ’s birth, ask how you can use the tools, or gifts which you have been given, to reflect Christ’s light brightly. Make straight the way of the Lord - be a stepping stone for others. Amen.

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