"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."
December 15, 2017, Words By: Ken Sikes, Image By:
I tried to sleep in a few weeks ago but failed to inform my children of this plan. My daughter came into the room and flipped the light on. “Ahhhh!” Pain shot beneath my eyelids as if a jellyfish had lodged its tentacles upon my retina. My suddenly frightened daughter turned off the light and backed out of the room with a dozen apologies. I made a feeble effort to go back to sleep but soon gave up. The shock of light had ruined my slumber. Oh the light flippers.
John was a light flipper. Day after day after day he kept calling, “Repent, repent, repent…” Many people were drawn to his daily antics in the wilderness. Mark tells us they arrived in droves. Exposure to the light of his message was temporarily painful, but it provided long term clarity. I’ll admit, sometimes I need the switch flipped. Sometimes I need someone to point the flashlight right into my face and say, “Wake up. Pay attention. Take a look at what’s going on.”
Others got increasingly irritated. They saw him as the annoying kid in the corner who keeps switching the light on, off, on, off, on and off and on. “Just who do you think you are”, they eventually asked, “the Messiah, Elijah, some prophet?” I will also admit to feeling this way. Sometimes the person who points the flashlight in my eyes gets yelled at, or worse, gets it slapped from their hand. “I don’t want to wake up. Leave me alone.”
John is a light flipper, waking people up with his message (repent), manner (camel coats) and method (baptizing). But notice what he says when asked about these things. In response to the questions by the Pharisees he tells them he is not the one; he’s just a voice in the woods building a road for the one who is to come. “If you think my light is bright,” he essentially says, “just wait til you meet him.” And so they did.
Given John’s response, what do you think they expected? If John was exposing the sins of Judea with his flashlight then what would the one to come be like? A headlight? A spotlight? A searchlight? The light of this one to come will shine so brightly that everyone, not just those at the Jordan River, will recognize their sinfulness. Finally the Samaritans will see the flaws in the syncretic theology. Finally the arrogant Romans will see that this is not their land and go home. Finally, we’ll get a light big enough for everyone to see what they’re doing wrong and everything will change. If this is what the people were expecting, they were likely disappointed.
When the the one to come showed up, few batted an eye when he recruited a couple of illiterate fishermen. Inviting a zealot to join his team made some sense, but people scratched their heads when he was paired with a traitorous tax collector. People shivered when he touched lepers and an unclean woman. They began to walk away when he made the dirty Samaritan the hero of a story. Proclaiming a Roman centurion had great faith left people utterly confused while praising a widow in Zarephath almost got him thrown off a cliff. What kind of light was this anointed one shining?
He isn’t shining a light, John tells us. He is the light.
“In your light,” proclaims the psalmist, “we see light.” (36:9) Jesus is the hometown hero who returns and puts his arm around the town drunk causing all to gasp as they suddenly see the likeness. Jesus’ light reveals not just the flaws but the resemblance. Jesus’ light awakens us to the light in one another. Usually this reality occurs gradually, like the dawning of a new day. Other times it comes with a flash. Such was the case for Thomas Merton on a street in Louisville.
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
If only everybody would realize this, but it cannot be explained. What are you to do when explanations fail? “Show,” my preaching instructor used to say, “don’t just tell, show.” Is this not the incarnation? God saying, “let me show you something.” The short clip below is a glimpse of the joy God might feel when we awaken to see what God sees. Wake us up, O Lord, wake us up.