This Sunday we get to light the pink candle on the Advent wreath. The pink candle means joy, and even though we still prepare to celebrate the feast, we remember to celebrate our joy. We can wonder what joy the Gospel contains this week.
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.
We hear two words that mean almost the same thing: "witness" and "testify." A witness sees something and then tells everyone what they have seen. When a witness tells about their experience, we call that "giving witness", or "testifying." What they say—the account or story they tell of their experience—we call their "testament." John the Baptist becomes a witness because he experiences the Light. We will have to think about what testament he gives.
The Gospel writer makes himself pretty clear: John is not the Light. He directs people to the Light, but he is not the Light. The Gospel writer needs to be clear about this because some people are confused. They ask John,
“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.”
John does not answer them properly, does he? He does not seem to give a testament. They want to know who he is—they have many guesses—but he does not give them any information about himself. He just says that he is not the Messiah, Elijah, or the prophet.
Perhaps John thinks they ask the wrong question. His testament is not about himself.
The Messiah, Elijah, the prophet—these are all people mentioned in the First Testament. Way before Jesus is born, so many people give witness to their experience of God, and all of this is written in the oldest parts of the Bible. So much of what we read there is about Someone who is to come, Someone promised by God. The people who come to John the Baptist wonder if John is the Promised One. He says, "I am not."
But John has got them thinking about the Promised One.
They do not look in the right direction yet, but their hearts begin to prepare.
Their mouths ask, "Who are you?" but maybe their hearts ask,
"Who is the Promised One?"
Again, they ask,
“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’”
Now he testifies a little more. He does not give them a name, though, just a voice. But notice what the voice says! In giving them something more, John the Baptist's testament points to the Lord.
They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
Now they change their question. They do not ask who he is, but about what he does. We might think that John will proclaim the baptism of repentance that we heard about last week. But he does not:
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.”
When John says, "Among you stands one whom you do not know," what would all the people begin to do? Would they not start looking around them, trying to figure out who this person might be? John the Baptist's testament points them away from himself, towards "the one who is coming after." He prepares their hearts to know Jesus.
We have to wonder if there are people like John the Baptist now. People whose lives—what they say and what they do—point us toward Jesus. Who are the people who prepare our hearts to know Jesus? They are the ones who prepare us to know Joy!
This week in Advent when we celebrate our joy of knowing Jesus, we could give thanks to God for those people who have been like John the Baptist to us. We can wonder if our lives—what we say and what we do—also point people to Jesus. Perhaps our lives are also testaments. We experience Jesus. We know Joy!