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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are?

Christ's coming incarnation is a scandal; the Holy One will become one of us, even while we are muddy and stuck, un-holy with sin. The light of Christ dawns and we see Jesus, embodied in the baptized people of God, the Church, and in the people we meet every day, whom we serve as Christ. We rejoice in the light of Christ as we are forgiven and freed to serve others.

Vicar Erik Doughty, Third Sunday of Advent, year B; texts: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; John 1:6-8, 19-28

In the name of God, the beginning and the end, our salvation + and our hope.

First, a brief liturgical-historical note. If your advent wreath at home looks like THIS, with three purple candles and a rose-pink candle. . . today’s the day you get to light the pink one. For full details about why, ask Dwight. (He knows!)

Who do you think you are?

That was a question posed to me when I first entered the process of becoming a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Part of our process is to sit with non-ordained and ordained members of what’s called a “candidacy committee”. And these folks are asked to begin speaking with a candidate about their life, their sense of vocation, their theology, and other stuff like that.

So the bishop’s assistant, Jane, said, “Tell us about your sense of call.” And I quoted this Isaiah text from today. She stopped me midway through it, and another member of the committee, scandalized, gasped, “Who do you think you ARE? Jesus?!??”

I have to say I was surprised. I knew that Jesus quoted this text about himself - but it just never crossed my mind that this was not the vocation of all the baptized. In baptism, the spirit of the Lord IS upon us - moving us to do all those things Isaiah talks about!

John the Baptist scandalized his own “candidacy committee”, the priests and levites - the crowd his own father was from. They come to him wanting details about his identity, and what he’s up to - Who do you think you are? Moses? The Prophet? The Messiah?

And John says “no, no, no” - he points beyond himself to “one who stands among you,” one greater than he, One whom he does not name, the light which is coming into the world. We do not get the impression that the religious powers of the day are less scandalized after speaking with John than before the conversation begins.

The scandal, though, is not really about John himself. Nor was it about me! It’s really the scandal of the incarnation that freaks people out. It is that WE are one way Christ is coming into the world - and Christ is also coming into the world through those we serve.

In Christ, God becomes one of us; which is bad enough, say these horrified observers. But then Christ goes on, through crucifixion and resurrection, sending the Holy Spirit to constantly be with us, to guide the community of the Church. And Christ starts being present all OVER the place, especially in *ordinary* people and things.

We even speak of Christ present in such mundane things as bread and wine; or even, Christ in that scruffy homeless fellow on the street. And Christ addicted to meth, attending N.A. meetings in our undercroft. Christ within other Christians with whom we vehemently disagree. Christ within atheists (wouldn’t it make them grumpy to know it?)!

It IS scandalous. It IS a little crazy. It is prodigal, meaning ridiculously generous; it is radical; whoever heard of one whose title and being is Holy, getting the Divine fingernails dirty? Our Holy God is so concerned for the life of the world, our Holy God jumped (and jumps) right into the mud where we live our lives.

So when John the Baptist is bearing witness to the light that is coming into the world, and when John speaks about the one among you . . . yes, he was talking about Jesus the Christ. And remember where Christ is?

In you.
In the poor person, living in a shelter.
In the one who can’t pay the mortgage.
In the depressed person, who feels especially low during the holidays.
In the wealthy person, too. The One Percent, even.
In the single person whose friends are their family of choice.
In the employed people and the unemployed.
In all the baptized, for sure.
In all who have need of any kind. When we serve those in need, we serve Christ, remember?

So . . . the light of Christ dwells in all the baptized for whom Christ died. That’s where Jesus chooses to be. And even in those not-baptized - Christ is there for us to serve, and respect, and love.

Maybe that light is dim. Maybe Christ’s light in some looks like one of the blue candles along the side aisles; you can just barely make out a flickering light in there - but it’s there. Yes! It’s in there. Stronger than you think, it just keeps burning.

So when we bear witness, like John, to the light of Christ, we are not just talking about academics and we are not talking about something utterly ethereal. We are talking about Christ whose light and image and presence is with, and for, every person who ever lived.

We point, along with John, to Christ and we say to our struggling neighbor, “this light gives life. This light changes what it touches; it heals and gives strength and hope, for this life and beyond. And this life is already present *within you*. Christ is already working to bring holy, life-giving, redeeming light to YOU, messy muddy mixed-up human.”

So who do you think you are? And who ARE you? You are a mess, dear friend. So am I. Muddy with sin, fallible, prone to pride or perhaps to self-effacing humility (just as bad). You (and I) are in bondage to all sorts of things, stuck in so many ways. We need to know a way out - but knowing will not save us, either.

And so, seeing us in all our helpless flailing, Christ the Word becomes one of us. Christ’s light is beginning now, on the Third Sunday in Advent, to dawn over the horizon, that we may look east, see it and rejoice, with new hope. We will stand in our muddy shackles of sin and sing anyway, because this is light we recognize as salvation - our king, the Christ child, the daystar and light of lights eternal, is on the way for us.

But that word “us” is important. Christ the light of the world is not coming only for “us” in this beautiful church at the corner of 31st and Chicago. Rather, Christ the scandalous incarnate One is coming to save *ALL* of us - for those of us here, for those of us in the surrounding neighborhood, for all people in all times and places, for the living and the dead. Including the drug dealer over at the bus stop, in whom Christ is present.

THAT’s the scandal of the Incarnation. That the Holy One loves all people so deeply, Christ chose to be Emmanuel, God With Us, even while we are as un-holy as we get.

That’s also wonderful news. It means that anytime we need Christ, Christ is already present in us and in other people who will help and heal and care for us. When we have opportunities, ourselves, to serve and listen and care, we may be able to feed that flame, and hold up the light of Christ within us, to better light someone’s path. We bear the light of Christ; we share the light of Christ. We embody Christ to others, and when we serve others we serve Christ in them.

Who do you think you are? I will tell you good news, news to rejoice about. You are free to be scandalously, incarnationally, Christlike; prodigally gracious, ridiculously welcoming, hospitable beyond all reason; to live out justice, peace, mercy, love.

So when we chant “The light of Christ,” and respond, “Thanks be to God,” we are rejoicing in Christ’s presence in the world, and in the opportunity and freedom we have to serve others - all of which is graced to us by God in Christ.

And when in Vespers we sing “Joyous light of glory” we are praising the light which sets all people free, which we see in one another, the light to whom John pointed - “among you stands one whom you do not know.”

All of us, in daily life, get to bear witness to this joyous light of glory. Especially as we process through Advent toward the East, the darkness fades and we can see that others around us embody Christ to us, and that we may - knowingly or not - embody Christ to others, letting our light - and Christ’s light - shine.

Who do you think you are?
You are a person Christ came to earth FOR.
You are forgiven and freed by Christ, Emmanuel, the light coming into the world.
And you are a member of Christ’s body on earth right now. It is with your love, your hands, your actions and words that Christ will reach out to a world unused to rejoicing.

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