It may come as no surprise to some of you but I wasn’t much good at grammar when I was at school. And I’m even worserer now… I could never remember the difference between verbs and adverbs, nouns and adjectives.
But let’s be brave and look at the verbs, the ‘doing’ words, in the first four verses of Isaiah. Our reading from the Old Testament is a familiar one for Advent. It’s a beautiful message of good news. Those verses have been used in different ways to tell of the imminent return to the Promised Land and to predict the coming of Christ. But they also capture the essence of what each of us should be doing now, today.
So, what are those verbs? We have: anoint, bring, bind-up, proclaim, release, comfort, provide, build-up, raise-up and repair. That’s a lot of verbs in four verses and they are all very positive and they’re all very public. These are verbs that you do with others.
Are we doing those doing words? If I was to ask those who know you, would they use those words to describe you? Do we comfort and provide, do we build-up and repair? If we think about where we live – our community, our schools and places of work – how can we each put those words into action?
Then in our Gospel reading we have John.
Our reading says of John: He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all may believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
Another verb. To testify. Testify means to make a statement based on your personal knowledge or belief to prove something. John was bringing the light to others through his personal knowledge. That light was Jesus.
When all seems dark and scary, who carries a light for you – and who do you carry a light for? Perhaps with everything going on at the moment, we need to look around and see who needs light bringing to them? We can bring that light by doing acts of comfort, of building-up and repair.
It’s a dark time right now. Some of us have lost friends and loved ones. Some are struggling financially. It’s even hard to be physically present with other people. The light comes as a reminder that we have, at least, the power to help illuminate the path for each other.
And it matters that we hold the light for each other. It matters that we give witness to the Light and that we talk to others about this Light that shines its infinite love and mercy on us. And in these days of technology, those ‘others’ could as easily be on the other side of the world – as next door.
Blessed are you
This is a blessing called Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light by Jan Richardson.
Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
Blessed are you
the light lives,
the brightness blazes—
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith,
in stubborn hope,
in love that illumines
every broken thing
Who are you?
Later in the Gospel reading, John is approached and asked, “Who are you?” He begins by saying who he is not: “I am not the Messiah.” They persist. “What then? Are you Elijah?” John says he is not Elijah. They ask him again, “Who are you?”
Finally, borrowing from Isaiah, John responds: I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’
John understood his role in the story of Jesus. He placed himself firmly in the tradition of the prophets. He could have said that he was John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. But with his answer he instead places himself in the line of those for whom the wilderness was home.
John’s response to his questioners is not only a way of saying who he is, but also where—and whom—he has come from. How clear is our understanding of our role in the story of Jesus? You and me. And where have we ‘come’ from?
Some of us have never lived more than a few miles from where we were born. I’ve moved about in my time. If you’re like me then sometimes it’s hard to say where we are from, hard to name the roots that hold us as we live at a distance from the places and people we grew up with. But roots happen in a variety of ways, not always to do with place.
For some of us our increasing rootlessness is perhaps itself a kind of wilderness, similar to what John experienced. But the wilderness, as John knew, is a place to be from, too.
Where I’m from
So, with a nod to the Apostle John and John the Baptist – and apologies to poets like Jan Richardson, here’s a poem called ‘Where I’m from’. You might like to think about your own version of this as you hear these words:
I am from rolling Dorset hills and Chesil beaches
With summer days making dens and, in winter, tunnelling through snow drifts
I am from a small, thick-stoned cottage on a farm
With a wood-fire in the living room, field mice in the kitchen
And, in winter, ice on the inside of the bedroom windows
I am from a Baptist Chapel and a sixty-strong youth group
From harvest festivals with bales of hay and a rowing boat
Walks on Good Friday and Sunday School trips to the seaside
I am from Jim and Sylvia, from a Grampie who preached and a Grannie who died too young. I’m from a Grandpa who served his country and his aging mother – and from a Nan who loved her Lord
I am from Bridport and Brighton and Bristol and Bury
I’m from love of June and Jackie and Stuart, from Amy, Jack and Maisie
I am from books and vinyl, from websites and cheque books, from long days in front of a computer
I’m from a need to be stood here today, with you, and share the Gospel
I am from a place which wonders what ‘being church’ will be like 5, 10, 20 years from now – and how I can help shape it.
Where are you from?
So, what would your version of that poem be like? Where are you from? What are the places, the people, the experiences that formed your path? How does where you’re from help you understand who you are? How does it enable you to make a way for the one who comes in this and every season?
Wherever you’re from, wherever you’re going, peace be to you as, with God’s help, you continue to find and fashion your path. Amen.
With thanks again to Jan Richardson. You can find her poem and much more on: http://adventdoor.com/2014/12/12/advent-3-testify-to-the-light/. For Jan’s version of ‘Where I’m from’ please follow this link: http://adventdoor.com/2008/12/07/where-im-from/