"Have you found Jesus yet?"
Advent 3 - John 1:6-8, 19-28
Here we go again. John the Baptist, in the wilderness, proclaiming, prepare the way! In the spirit of John’s call, I should tell you that I have a confession to make. Our daughter Mary Katherine has learned how to say the word Santa before learning how to say Jesus. I could stand here and make excuses about how s’s are easier to pronounce than j’s—which is true—but the reality is that we have more Santa’s in our house than Jesus’s.
Perhaps as a bit of an over-correction, our poor preacher’s kid is going to get a Fisher Price Little People Nativity set for Christmas. Don’t worry. She is also going to get a Cinderella Little People set. So in the coming months I am sure I will have stories about how Cinderella managed to find her way into the manger and about how Jesus managed to make his way into Cinderella’s carriage.
All jokes aside, the sad truth is that it is easier for us to say the word Santa in our culture today than it is to say Jesus. In all honesty, there have been a lot of Christians who have done damage to the word Jesus in recent years so we are just as much to blame as anyone else. Even still, it saddens me that many especially in our businesses and schools are restricted to simply saying, “Season’s Greetings.” One of you told me this week that you would rather just say nothing at all.
Some of you may be wondering, “What’s wrong with saying ‘Season’s Greetings?’” Well, if you aren’t a Christian, then I suppose there is nothing wrong with saying it. However, if we, who proclaim ourselves as followers of Christ, use this greeting then I believe we are only doing ourselves, the church, and the other person a disservice.
I learned this truth during my time on the Interfaith Council at the University of Alabama. I found that our dialogue was much richer if we proclaimed the faith we believe as opposed to reducing our faith to almost nothing at all as a means to find some common ground.
As a member of the council, I learned that it wasn’t my job to convert people to Christ; it wasn’t my job to convince people that Jesus is the only way to the Father—that is the Holy Spirit’s work. Instead, I was charged to proclaim my faith and point to Jesus. Like John the Baptist, I learned that I was supposed to testify to the light.
I also learned that it was my responsibility to listen especially to those of other faiths. It was my responsibility to listen and point to how Jesus was present in the faith of all people and all religions. It was my job to remember that Jesus is not bound to a certain religion. Jesus is bigger than religion. Jesus is the incarnation of God. Jesus is all in all.
I admit that we have a delicate line to walk. I know that Jesus is a loaded word especially to those who have been harmed or disillusioned by the church. I believe much of this harm has been done those who try to be too much like Jesus, by those who act better than everyone else because they are “Christians.”
For example, do you remember those “What would Jesus do bracelets?”? I believe these bracelets are a product of a Christian culture that preaches the law without grace, a product that teaches us that you need to live up to “this” standard in order to be beloved of God, a product of a teaching that says only if you do what Jesus did then you will be saved. That is not the gospel.
The message of the gospel says, “have faith, you have been saved through the blood of Christ, now stop worrying about you salvation and live life without fear or shame.” Jesus has our salvation covered by what he did alone, not by what we do. If we can accept our salvation by grace alone, then we are free to live a sanctified life, free us to live a life where we can testify to the light without shame or fear. We can stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and like John the Baptist turn our attention to the only one who can make everything right in this world—Jesus Christ.
When you look at today’s gospel lesson, I want you to notice John the Baptist’s proclamation of the light. The first thing John says is, “I am not the Messiah.” This might seem like an obvious statement and even uncalled for. However, John is making a pretty bold statement. First and foremost, as followers of Christ, we are called to confess that we are not Christ, we are not the Savior, we are not God.
In other words, John is saying that he is not responsible for making Christ present in our world through his own actions. Instead, John says he is responsible for pointing to the Christ that is already present in our world. John is responsible for pointing to how Jesus is acting in our world right now.
You may have seen bumper stickers around town that say, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” While I believe this is a noble thing to do, I believe the message is falling on deaf ears. Unfortunately, the only people who are listening to this kind of message already believe Christ is present in Christmas. Instead, I want to challenge you to approach this issue in another way, in the same way I was challenged by an article I read this week called, “The heresy of keeping Christ in Christmas.”
The article is based on dialogue between a group called Freedom from Religion Foundation and the city of Piedmont, Wisconsin. The Freedom from Religious Foundation called for the city to stop saying prayers over the intercom at football games. In response, the city hosted a “Keep the Christ in Christmas” Parade.
This kind of reaction from Christians only causes the chasm between the churched and unchurched to grow larger. We are not doing ourselves any favors when we react to an attack on the gospel. Instead, we are called, like John the Baptist, to remain faithful and point to Jesus in the wilderness, even when all signs say that our Messiah shouldn’t be there. We are called to remain faithful and point to how Jesus is still present in our midst despite the best attempts to silence him.
Yes, you heard me correctly. Our first job as Christians is to be a witness to Jesus Christ, a witness to the light. We are called to be evangelists. And I have good news. Evangelism has nothing to do with telling others what to believe. Evangelism is not about guilt tripping people into going to church. It isn’t even about reading the correct translation of the Bible.
Let me be clear. It is not our job to convince people that St. Paul’s is the best church in Selma. It is not our job to save our church that we love so dearly. First and foremost, we are called to show people Jesus. So the question for you this morning asks, “Where is Jesus in your life?” Where do you go to see the light? Where in this world is do you find hope?
If you can answer any of these questions, then I have news for you, God wants you to be an evangelist. I know that sounds scary but think about it like this. Evangelism is kind of like show-and-tell at school. Do you remember show-and-tell as a child? Do you remember how excited you were about “your day”? If you can remember, then you already know what evangelism is all about. Fundamentally, evangelism is about delighting in the good news of Jesus Christ.
If you see Jesus at the food pantry, tell others about your experience at the food pantry. If they seem interested, then invite them down to the food pantry the next time you go. If you find Jesus in your Bible study group and someone sounds interested, then invite them to join you. If you see the light of the gospel through art or music, then invite a friend who is hungry for that light to look at art or play music with you. Maybe they will ask you where you see Jesus. If you find Jesus here in the pews at St. Paul’s, then you know what to do.
I hope this is starting to make sense…If you can think of a place in this world, where you see light and hope, then Jesus is already there making the whole creation new.
I want to end by remembering one of my favorite exchanges in my favorite movie. In Forrest Gump, Lt. Dan and Forrest are reflecting on life when Lt. Dan asks Forrest, “Have you found Jesus yet?” Looking a bit confused, Forrest responds, “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him.
Yes, Forrest we are supposed to be looking for Jesus. During this Advent season, we are called to look for Jesus. As the sign that is posted on the Stellar Cellar door says, “If you seek the Christ together, we will find him.” And when we find him, we can proclaim, “Jesus Christ is here!”
During these last few weeks in Advent, I pray that God give you the wisdom to look for Jesus in a world that too often tries to silence him. Instead of complaining about how Santa has taken Christ out of Christmas, have the patience to find Jesus in the hoopla of the season and look for an opportunity to show others.
Ultimately, Jesus Christ is waiting on us. He is waiting to be found at the food pantry. He is waiting to be found in the beauty and wonder of creation. He is waiting to be found right here in our pews. Jesus is waiting and he wants us to find him together so that all may know the healing power of God’s love. Amen.