Jhn 01v06-8, 19-28
Seeing the Light that is Around Us
Some time ago, there was a married couple in a counselling situation. The air was tense, because they were in a situation of conflict.
“Most couples dealing with difficulties never make it together to a counselor. You have already shown that you have a commitment to one another big enough to reach this office,” the counselor said. The counselor thought of the marriage service, and asked the same kind of question that we ask then. “Would you, like this marriage to work out–yes or no?” After some attempts at laying down conditions, Andrew finally agreed that he did. Then the counselor asked his wife the same question. “Would you like this marriage to work out–yes or no?” Likewise, she squirmed for a while before saying that ‘of course she did’.
So the couple had some common ground. From there, they took turns in talking about other common ground that they had–like their love for the children, and other things.
That gave the counselor a basis on which to move forward. She gave each one a full and uninterrupted opportunity to describe the situation of conflict from their point of view. Not that they enjoyed having to listen to the other one doing it! So the counselling situation proceeded, finally reaching a successful conclusion.
The counselor started with two hardened hearts, two people who found it difficult to communicate with each other. By starting with the common ground, she opened up the way for the two to begin to communicate on what their current conflict was about.
This is the season of Advent, the season of arrival, and this is the third Sunday. The Bible readings all relate to the coming of the Lord as the infant Christ and as the coming judge. In the gospel reading today, we hear John the Baptist say that he is a herald, calling for the preparation of a highway for the Lord to come into our hearts.
Why there would need to be such a herald, when Jesus was already there? Surely if Jesus is the light, then light can usually be seen without a need for someone to testify to it? Wasn’t Jesus by himself quite adequate? This gospel gives the reason as the need for a witness. From Isa 9:2 we see that the people have dwelt in darkness, and in verse19 f. we see that even his own people, and the religious authorities in particular, are hostile to the Word, hostile to the light, hostile to the truth. Like people in conflict, in this case with God, they have hardened hearts, closed and darkened eyes, and cannot receive God’s love or God’s light. John’s Gospel, however, shows how people can move from darkness to light. For John, we are not born to the darkness or to light. Instead, John says, we can have our hearts softened and opened. Then, when we see the the signs and the light among us, we can come to understand the truth, and we can move from darkness to light.
Ray Brown says “The Word of God has now been spoken to [us], and throughout Jesus’ ministry [people] will seek to put the truth of this Word on trial by seeking witnesses to it… In 5:31-40… Jesus brings forward a whole series of witnesses to the truth of God’s word: God…, the Scriptures, Moses, and John the Baptist.”
Nicodemus is an example of someone who can move from darkness to light. He appears in chapter 3, in 7:50; and finally in 19:39. Nicodemus was a frightened leader of the Jews, who slowly finds his way towards the light and life of God that John shows us in Jesus, and begins his Christian life as only a secret disciple.
John the Baptist was a herald, a faithful witness in the face of forces that would finally lead to his own execution. He was opening up the hearts of the people of the first century to see and receive the light that was already among them. In some way, you and I have our own conflicts, often connected with hard hearts. We find good religious reasons for our determined positions. To that degree, we are just like the Jewish religious authorities in the Gospel of John. To that degree, John still say to us: “Among you stands one whom you do not know.”
Acknowledging that Jesus of Nazareth is Christ is not yet enough. Our knowledge of him has to go further than an acknowledgement of him as Christ, as the Son of God. The Gospel of John is full of Hebrew senses, and the Hebrew for ‘know,’ yadah, is used of a person’s intimate sexual relationship with another. This ‘knowing’ then, goes further than the head: Jesus must become my own Savior today; I must have a personal and loving relationship with him today.
Today, let us be alert for one opportunity to soften open up our own closed hearts to receive the light of the love of Jesus Christ in our situations of conflict. This could be if we are one of the people in conflict, or if we are a third party to such conflict.
God help us to look for, help us to more fully appreciate, and help us to clearly express the common ground. L
Is this even possible? “God who calls you is faithful,” says Paul, “and God will do it.” Will we let God do this in our lives? Are we willing even to be made willing? Amen.
In this way, surely we too can benefit from the testimony of John the Baptist. We will benefit because, with softened and opened hearts, we too will receive God’s Word of love and light in our own lives, families, communities, and nation today. Like John the Baptist, we too can continue as faithful witnesses to the Word of God in the presence of a difficult context; as faithful witnesses to that Word that endures forever and accomplishes God’s purpose.
John AB v. 29, 1966