John 1: 6-8, 19-28
There is a character from the Christmas story who very rarely makes it onto the Christmas cards, although he is the ‘star’ of our Gospel reading today – John the Baptist.
So I have provided you all with an image of him to take away today. This is a statue from the Charles bridge in Prague, and in this depiction John is doing what he does best.. wearing animal skins and carrying a scallop shell as a sign of baptism, and he is pointing.
You’ll find many images of John the Baptist pointing
- John and Jesus as infant cousins, with John pointing to Jesus;
- John in the desert, pointing to a distant figure pf Jesus coming towards the river for baptism;
- John baptising Jesus and pointing to him as the Spirit descends in the form of a dove
- Even John standing at the cross, pointing to Jesus as he is crucified.
John – always pointing – and always pointing to Jesus.
The reading we heard makes it absolutely clear ‘he himself was not the light, he came to testify to the light’. John states ‘I am the voice crying… make straight the way for the Lord’ and he encourages the crowd to look for ‘the one who comes after me’.
John the Baptist is in this story of the coming of Christ to make sure we do not miss Jesus – to point out that Jesus is here, Jesus is God made flesh, Jesus is among us.
I think John would be delighted that he is not on the Christmas cards – he would want us to be looking at the real centre of Christmas – Jesus.
And if John wanted us to take home one message today it would be this – look for God with us – and then point others to Jesus.
You don’t need me to tell you what a wearying and weird year 2020 has been. Our world still has not quite mastered the Covid-19 virus – although we do seem to be making progress. In 9 US states one in a thousand people have died from Covid. Many people will be facing a Christmas table that has people missing from it, either because we are staying apart to try to protect each other or because someone has died. And I know that for some people Christmas is always a difficult time of loss or pain or stress.
So what does it mean to point to Jesus at Christmastime?
It means pointing to light in the darkness, hope in the depths of despair, the coming of God into our world – not just once for some but forever and for all.
I came across a really lovely video on Friday, after it was featured in the BBC News.
The children and staff of the primary school in Grasmere in the Lake District have produced a different kind of nativity play this year.
Unable to put on the traditional play in school, because of Covid restrictions, they have instead put together a video which shows Mary & Joseph coming to Grasmere to look for somewhere to have their baby. Previously the Angel Gabriel has told Mary about the baby on her phone; a friendly farmer offers a barn – with real cattle & sheep; the host of angels on the hills above Grasmere are wearing wellies under their white raiment; the magi are seen using their telescope & travelling by camper van.. it is a complete delight. Grasmere primary school have really got the message – God come in Christ to them, to their village, to people like them.. like us.
Put at its simplest, pointing to Jesus is telling all those who are struggling this Christmas that hope comes to them, wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.
There is a way in which we can get this pointing to Jesus wrong. Have you met the sort of Christian who spends Advent and Christmas muttering grumpily about all the ways in which people are missing the point of Christmas?
“All this jollity, materialism, over-eating – what has that got to do with the birth of Jesus?” they might ask – they might as well add ‘bah, humbug!’.
But pointing to Jesus helps us to see and then to say that the ways we mark Christmas are, at their best, our response to the great good news of God with us.
Jollity – is the beginning of joy
Materialism – has its origins in gift giving
Over-eating is the result of too much celebration and feasting.
Pointing to Jesus can help us talk about the joy, the gift, and the celebration of the God coming to be with us in our need, to bring life in all its fulness.
I’m glad, despite the restrictions, that we have found a way to celebrate communion safely today. This meal – the Lord’s supper – is also a way of pointing to Jesus.
Here in bread and wine we are reminded of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.
We are pointed to the way in which Jesus fed people and filled them with joy.
And we are pointed to the ways he comes to us and feeds us still… and to the promise of the heavenly banquet for all people.
May this communion meal feed and strengthen us today, to enable us, like John the Baptist, to point to Jesus, the life and light and joy of the world.