"Point to the Light"

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 & John 1:6-8, 19-28

December 14, 2014  -  Third Sunday of Advent, Year B

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches


John 1:6-8, 19-28


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.




I find discussion about social rules interesting.

Social rules are the values, beliefs, and guidelines

For successfully communicating, cooperating, and negotiating with one another.

Learning social rules begin the day we’re born:

A cry gets attention,

Eye contact is important,

Touch is essential.

Parents teach us these rules,

But so do others in the household,

Those we meet

And those with whom we choose to relate to.

An attentive observer can see how social rules are passed on.

In a busy environment, like a mall,

Consider a toddler pointing to a person who stands out from the crowd.

It might be the way they are dressed,

Their skin color,

Or the size of their feet.

The world feels like it turns to slow motion when the pointing child says loudly,

“Look at him, Mom! He’s funny!”

The horror struck parent immediately schools her child,

“Honey, it’s not polite to point.”


Indeed, it is impolite to point.

Yet, we hear in our Gospel of John this morning

That John the baptizer’s single and solitary purpose in life

Was to point,

Not to himself,

But to testify,

To point

To the Light.


Imagine how this would disappoint most parents today.

‘Our son, John dropped out of school,

Left home,

And is leading some hippy group

Camping out in the wilderness,

Dressed like wild things,

Acting like prophets of old,

Eating bugs and honey.’

‘At least he’s not living in our basement.’


God gives every person gifts and purpose.

Yet, God only gave John the baptizer one purpose,

To point

To the Light.

Because, we are told,

John pointing to the Light fulfills God’s purpose:

“So that all might believe through him.”

It is God’s desire

That all might believe.


Life is all and well

When you’re a one man band

Playing coffee houses in the suburbs.

Life changes, however,

When the one man traveling side show is discovered

Goes viral (as we would say today)

And begins to attract crowds

Big enough to pack arenas the size of Madison Square Garden.

The countryside and all of Jerusalem emptied

And came to John witnessing in the wilderness.

Authorities and principalities took notice and got into line.


‘Just who do you think you are?’

They asked when the line delivered them to John.

‘And, haven’t you heard?

It’s not polite to point!’

There were a lot of identities John the baptizer rejected.

But the one he claims

Is the purpose which God had called him:

‘I’m the one,’ John witnesses

‘Who is pointing to the one coming after me.

I am pointing to the Light.’

Witness has become John’s identity.


As modern day disciples of Jesus Christ,

Witness becomes our identity, too.

Just as it was God’s purpose to send John the baptizer

To point to the Light

That all might believe,

So, too, is God’s purpose for our lives.

We are called to point to the Light

That all might believe.

This is who we are.

This is our identity.

God calls disciples of Jesus

To point to Jesus;

To break all the social rules

And to turn this world upside down

With our radical audacity,

That all might believe.

Point to Jesus.

He is the Light of the World.


Here is something to think about more deeply:

The Light of Christ reveals what only witnesses can see.

In other words,

There is a whole lot happening in this world

That non-Christians will never see.

Only Christ followers

Are able to see and understand

That which Christ illuminates.


For example,

When a loved one is being cared for in a hospital.

The one who isn’t a disciple of Jesus

Will look upon the science and engineering,

The practice of assessment and treatment,

The totality of medicine

And draw conclusions based on their unique observation alone.

‘It was her time.’

‘He responded well.;

‘That’s what happens when you get old.’

Or, ‘this is what happens when you don’t take care of yourself.’


However, Christ followers see what others are incapable of seeing.

The Light of Jesus reveals to believers

The miracle of cure,

The intervention of God to relieve pain and suffering,

The presence of God sent angels.

We can see

Even the blessed grace of our Lord welcoming home

Another member of God’s eternal kingdom.


There has been in the local news this past week

The story of a young man dying of brain cancer.

Coming from a firefighting family,

- a long line of volunteer first responders -

He lived for the day to join the local fire company,

But his condition prevented him from doing so.

Lt. Governor Bob Duffy learned about this young man,

Put out the word,

And the story has gone viral.

He was made an honorary firefighter and EMT.

He is receiving badges from companies across the State.

And he and his family are being interviewed on all the local networks.


What is a heartwarming, secular story for most people,

Is Light for Christians.

We can see the love of God flowing through countless individuals

Splashing into the life of this young man and his family.

We can hear the whisper of God leading others to respond,

Even if it is so simple as to send him a patch from their local department.

We witness to the presence of angels,

People surrounding this young man

Providing him comfort and mercy

Even during these difficult, twilight days of his life.

We know

And are called to testify

To the Light we see.

We know

And point to Jesus

As the Comforter, present in their midst,

As the Healer, touching mother, father, family, and friends,

As the Savior, who will take over when the doctor’s work is done.


We live in an age of miracles, people!

God is doing great things all around us!

We see

What the world cannot see.

We can see

Because Jesus is the Light

And he reveals the world as it truly is.


In today’s world

Technology has made ripples in the social order.

“Platform” has become a buzz word for operating systems,

Such as Mac, PC, or Linux.

Smart phones have pushed platforms into those known as iOS, Windows, and Android.

New upstarts have upset the platform metaphor to include

Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.

How does one function appropriately

In this online world of anonymity, smoke, and mirrors?

What is not only appropriate, but encouraged?

How does one learn?

And, just as importantly,

How does one adjust for inevitable mistakes?


Technology platforms

Have learned that closed systems are better than open ones.

In other words,

The user is forced to make a choice

To be a Google person, a Microsoft person, or an Apple person.

It is intentionally difficult to cross between platforms.

Facebook doesn’t tweet,

Twitter doesn’t post to Google,

And Google does Drive, but it doesn’t do iCloud.

Each point to themselves

Because that is where the money is made.

Success comes from developing your own platform,

Promoting your own platform,

Keeping people in your own platform,

And selling more and more technology

To the people who have bought into your platform.


Organized religion has done much of the same thing-

We’ve just been doing it over centuries and millennia,

Not simply over years and decades.

Major platforms are the religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and others.

Platforms have split down through the years, such as

Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, and Presbyterian (in our region).

The platform supports the content,

Which is the spiritual birth and development of each member,

But, like technology, our franchise brand

Only encourages a closed system;

One that doesn’t encourage cross system cooperation or collaboration.

Institutional, organized religion does a great job of pointing to itself,

But, as we can see,

Does a less-than-optimal job of pointing to Jesus.


John the baptizer

Was given the perfect platform

To point towards himself.

He was a rock star of his age.

Crowds poured out of villages, towns, and cities

To come and experience his witness.

If anyone wanted to start a new religious platform in 30 AD

The best candidate would have been John.

He looked the part.

He played the part.

The crowds loved him.

John has a license to print money,

Build a cause,

Brand it with “God,”

And change the world.


Except …

This wasn’t God’s will for John.

Neither is this God’s will for the Church.

God isn’t calling us to build mega churches.

God isn’t telling us to run successful Christian programs.

God isn’t promoting one church over another;

Blessing one, while allow another to die on the vine.


Like John,

Disciples of Jesus

Are called to point beyond ourselves.

We are called to point to Jesus,

To give witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is our Messiah,

For the simple purpose:

That all might believe.


Pointing to Christ takes confidence

Because we are breaking social rules.

It isn’t polite to point.

But this is who we are as disciples.

We point to Jesus

That all might believe.

This is an important lesson from today’s Gospel.

John the baptizer was not only preparing the way for Christ,

Pointing to Jesus as the coming Light of the world,

He was also throwing down for us a model for our discipleship today.

Like John,

We point to the Light

That all might believe.


One last observation.

Like John, we are called to point to Jesus.

But how do we know Light when we see it?

How do we discern the difference between

Light in the world (little ‘l’)

And the Light of the world (big “L”)?

There is a lot of light out there;

So how are we to know it is Christ led,

Christ centered,

Christ revealing?


I’d suggest

Third Isaiah,

That is the son of Isaiah’s grandson,

Pretty much writes a job description for Jesus

In our Old Testament lesson for today,

Plucked from Isaiah 61.

The prophet tells us-

You’ll recognize Jesus as the one who

Brings good news to the oppressed,

Binds up the brokenhearted,

Sets captives free and grants them liberty.

Jesus is the one who

Proclaims this is the year of our Lord’s favor.

He overturns evil doers.

Jesus comforts those who mourn,

Praises the faint in spirit.

Jesus loves justice, hates robbery and wrongdoing.

Jesus rejoices in the Lord, and exults in our God.

Jesus cloths us in the garments of salvation

And has covered us in the robe of righteousness.

If this doesn’t point out who Jesus is,

I’m not certain anyone could do any better!


Dearly beloved,

Leave worship this day and break some rules.

May your words point to the Light.

May your behaviors point to the Light.

May our lives point to the Light,

Jesus Christ, our Lord,

That all might believe.