On this third Sunday of Advent, we remember the purpose for which John was born – bearing witness to the light of God’s presence.
It was for the purpose of bearing witness to the light of God’s presence that Pastor Alfred Depp wrote from a Nazi concentration camp where he was imprisoned and eventually hung by the Nazis. A Jesuit Priest, he wrote about the message of Advent and the light of God’s presence that can be found even when reality is defined by darkness. As we consider God’s presence during this season of Advent, I invite you to hear what Father Depp wrote as he encountered Advent from the viewpoint of his imprisonment.
“I see Advent this year with greater intensity and anticipation than ever before. Walking up and down in my cell, three paces this way and three paces that way, with my hands in irons and ahead of me an uncertain fate, I have a new and different understanding of God’s promise of redemption and release. This reminds me of the angel that was given to me two years ago for Advent by a kind person. The angel bore the inscription, “Rejoice, for the Lord is near.”
“The angel was destroyed by a bomb. A bomb killed the man who gave it to me, and I often feel he is doing me the service of an angel. The horror of these times would be unendurable unless we kept being cheered and set upright again by the promises that are spoken. The angels of annunciation, speaking their message of blessing into the midst of anguish, scattering their seed of blessing that will one day spring up amid the night, call us to hope. These are not yet the loud angels of rejoicing and fulfillment that come out into the open, the angels of Advent. Quiet, inconspicuous, they come into rooms and before hearts as they did then.
“Quietly they bring God’s questions and proclaim to us the wonders of God, for whom nothing is impossible. For all its earnestness, Advent is a time of inner security, because we have received a message. Oh, if it ever happens that we forget the message and the promises; if all we know is the four walls and the prison windows of our gray days; if we can no longer hear the gentle step of the announcing angels; if our soul no longer is at once shaken and exalted by their whispered word–then it will be all over with us. We are living wasted time and are dead before they do us any harm.”
In reflecting on Father Depp’s witness about the light of God’s presence, Will Willimon states that Father Depp wrote from his prison cell “about the comfort that is to be found, even in the worst of situations, in the promises of Advent. Advent is not a time in which our church celebrates the presence of God, the salvation of the world; it is the time when we focus upon the promises of Incarnation, the promise of the advent of the light that “shines in the darkness.”
To which I would add, Advent is the time when followers of Jesus bear witness to the light of God’s presence. To fully appreciate today’s scripture reading about light shining in the darkness, it is essential to understand that every person is born for one purpose: bearing witness to the light of God’s presence. This is the biblical story of faith that begins when God speaks light into existence in the beginning verses of the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1:1-4:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
To remember how the light of God’s presence defines the beginning of the biblical story of faith, it is important to remember how the light of God’s presence defines the conclusion of the biblical story of faith that is found in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, Revelation 22:5:
And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
This is the light to which we bear witness this Advent as we live in a world that is darkened by acts of terror and acts of war. This is the light to which we bear witness this Advent as we live in a world that is defined by the darkness of division and suspicion. This is the light to which we bear witness as we proclaim with John that the Word became flesh and lived among us. This is the light to which we bear witness as we remember the holy night when grace upon grace was received and the Word became flesh and lived among us in Jesus. This is the light to which we bear witness as we remember the purpose for which we have been born.
James Weldon Johnson witnessed to the light of God’s presence with his poem, The Creation” As you hear it, I invite you to remember the purpose for which you have been born as you bear witness to the light of God’s presence.
And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’ll make me a world.
And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!
Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!
Then God himself stepped down—
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.
Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas—
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed—
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled—
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.
Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.
Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!
Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.
Then God sat down—
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
by Pastor Marc Brown
December 17, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: John 1:1-18
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for December 17, 2023
Scripture Lesson John 1:1-18
The Good News “Bearing Witness”
Music “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” Hymn #240
Closing Music “For Unto Us A Child is Born” arr. Bill Wolaver