December 17, 2017, Third Sunday of Advent John 1 6-8, 19-28
Do you know yourself?
The Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” is one of the Delphic maxims that was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
So with that in mind, I will go back to my first question. Do you know yourself? Do you know your strengths, your weaknesses? Do you have an idea of why you are here on this earth? Do you have an idea of your purpose?
I want us to look at today’s Gospel with that in mind.
The writer of this Gospel wanted his readers to understand clearly that John was there to witness to Jesus as the light of the world. He does not refer to him, as the other Gospels do, as John the Baptist, or a prophet. John is a witness to Jesus. Now we are not looking to this text for its historicity but for the message, the WORD, we can draw for ourselves.
John knew himself. Faced with the questioning of those who were sent by the authorities who wanted to know who he was. John stated that he was not the Messiah and to their further questions, he answered that he was not Elijah, who the people expected to return before the Messiah. He also told them that he was not a prophet.
John knew who he was.
What about each one of us? Before people start to panic thinking ‘I am not sure of the answer’, don’t worry, it is a life long process. Erik Erikson, a psychologist-psychoanalyst, in his stages of psycho social development, mapped out various stages we all go throughout our lives. From teen years on, there are questions that we ask ourselves, ‘Who are we? Who can I be?’ From early adult on, the question changes some to focus on ‘Can I love? Can I make my life count?
Part of that discovering who you are is be process of elimination. John knew he was not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor a prophet.
My 4-year-old granddaughter told me when I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, that she wanted to be a mother, a dentist and a tooth fairy. With time, she will sort out by process of elimination what she will be.
More seriously, my academic training was varied as I learned who I was, from 2 years of engineering, a year in general BA with a focus on Art history, to eventually go towards a religious studies degree, and later an MDiv. I discovered I was not an engineer, I was not an art historian, etc. Even though, I loved those subjects, I discovered who I am by realizing who I was not.
Sometimes this can happen with some sadness, such as when we don’t get a promotion, or our plans are thwarted by something else. We then have to do some personal examination. Is this a set back where I need to learn from, and continue on, or is there another lesson here for me to learn?
Those questions of discerning do not end in early adulthood, life continues to help us further discern who we are throughout life.
Although Socrates wrote that ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’, I would say that the examined life is so much more interesting.
That is the first lesson I would like to draw from this passage, like John the Baptist, we need to continue to examine our lives to know who we are, our strengths, our weaknesses.
Like John the Baptist, Know thyself.
Now John’s questioners then ask, ‘Who are you then?’
He answered by quoting the prophet Isaiah. “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’. John was able to pinpoint a scripture that defined who he was, what his mission, his purpose, was in life.
The same is true for Jesus who quoted from the beginning of the Old Testament passage we heard today when he spoke in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth.
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
That passage for Jesus clearly spelled out his mission, his purpose.
Thirty plus years ago, I was on a silent retreat to discern whether I should or not be ordained as a Mennonite minister. The conference and congregation had decided, but I needed to sense that confirmation. It was at the close of the retreat when during the eucharist, the retreatants sand Here I am Lord. It too is drawn from, Isaiah. These are the words:
I The Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.
…Whom shall I send?
Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.
I knew then, and the song remains, my scripture that defines my mission.
I would like you to take a moment to think, is there a scripture that could define who you are and your mission in life? If not a scripture, maybe a word.
What word, would define, what your mission is in life? You are here on this earth for a reason. What word or words, or scripture, would define it?
Now I know this can be difficult for some people to recognize the good they are doing. I remember a movie I would watch with my children every year at Christmas, It’s a wonderful life, a really shmaltzy movie but with a beautiful message. A man is going through a dark period in his life. An angel shows him what life would have been if he had not been around, a much poorer place.
Each one of us is here for a reason, a purpose. Is there a text, or a word or two that would define your purpose.
Take a moment to think about it. (If you have a pencil or a pen, write it down on your bulletin and take it home with you.)
The scripture challenges us today, to know ourselves and to be able to name our purpose, our mission, here on earth.
Finally, returning to our gospel passage, John the Baptist’s questioners asked him why he was baptizing if he was not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet.
His questioners knew he was baptising. He confirmed that he was, he was baptising with water.
This last point is simple. People need to see in our actions who we are. Our actions must speak loudly to our mission. If the word that came to you earlier in this message was service, and you are the first one to disappear when there is work to be done. You might want to think again.
Do your actions show to the world what your mission, your calling, is? That having been said, none of us can live it out 100% of the time, but generally, it should show.
There is a woman who comes regularly to the Cathedral during the week. In seeing her for the last 3 years I have been here, I would guess her mission would be 2 words, prayer and service. I could do that for many of you here that I know, I could give a word or two to describe your mission, because your actions speak loudly of your mission.
John the Baptist’s questioners saw in John’s action his mission. Each one of us by our actions need to be showing our calling, the reason God has put us on this planet.
My sisters and brothers, this story of John the Baptist gives us a powerful invitation today to know one self, to know one’s strengths, one’s weaknesses.
It gives us an invitation to think about our own mission, our own reason for being here on this planet.
Finally, it reminds us that our actions must continue to show that we are living out our mission.
During this advent season, and throughout the year, may we continue to prepare the way of the Lord, as we live out our calling.