Third Sunday of Advent
December 17, 2023
The Word and the Light
(Rev. Dr. H. James Hopkins is Senior Pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, Oakland, CA)
John 1:6-8, 19-28 (NRSVUE)
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light…
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but he confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”[a] 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ”
as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why, then, are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah,[b] nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
John 1:8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist is a prophet and a witness. He is a witness who points beyond himself to Jesus. It is Jesus, not the Baptist, who is both the Word of God and the Light of the World.
Lamar Williamson writes, “Witnesses say what they have seen and heard or attest to the truth of another’s testimony. John’s role is to recognize the true light when it appears, and to call attention to it so that others may recognize it and believe – that is, recognize, trust in and commit themselves to the light.”
I recently learned about an apocryphal text, “The Revelation of the Magi,” likely written around 300 CE. In this story from early Christianity, the star of Bethlehem is revealed to be the light promised by John, the very light of Christ.
According to this ancient text, the magi hail from a mythological eastern land named Shir, and the name “Magi,” it is said, derives etymologically from their practice of praying in silence. They knew to follow the star to Bethlehem because they are descendants of Seth, the third child of Adam and Eve, who passed on to them a prophecy told to him by his father Adam.
The star appears to the Magi in the Cave of Treasures on the Mountain of Victories. There it transforms into a small, luminous being (clearly Christ, but his precise identity is never explicitly revealed) and instructs them about its origins and their mission.
The star says, “And I am everywhere, because I am a ray of light whose light has shone in this world from the majesty of my Father, who has sent me to fulfill everything he has spoken about me to the entire world and in every land by unspeakable mysteries.”
I find this story of the speaking light to be both beautiful and inspiring. God so wants to lead us to faith, hope, and love that a light is sent in both human form and celestial form. This light not only shines brightly to the entire world, but speaks lovingly in every land, leading us on our way, helping us find the Christ, enabling us to grasp the truth spoken of by John and the prophets, and the witnesses that came before him.
John was clear. Jesus is the Light of the World. What he didn’t say was this light will not only not be quenched, it will not be silenced.