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4th Advent 23 Dec 2012

Dr Lutz Ackermann (Friedenskirche, Hillbrow)

Forerunner (Jn 1:19-23) The Jewish authorities in Jerusalem sent some priests and Levites to John to ask him, "Who are you?" John did not refuse to answer, but spoke out openly and clearly, saying: "I am not the Messiah." "Who are you, then?" they asked. "Are you Elijah?" "No, I am not," John answered. "Are you the Prophet?" they asked. "No," he replied. "Then tell us who you are," they said. "We have to take an answer back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" John answered by quoting the prophet Isaiah: "I am 'the voice of someone shouting in the desert: Make a straight path for the Lord to travel!' " (Joh 1:19-23)

What would it be like, if President Zuma came to us for a visit? If he decided he wanted to come to Hillbrow and for some reason wanted to visit his church? Not very likely to happen, but just imagine what it would be like. First you might hear rumours that he is coming. Then there would be some kind of official announcement. But before it could happen, all sorts of people would pitch up to check
2012 REVD DR LUTZ ACKERMANN FRIEDENSKIRCHE, HILLBROW

out security and logistics and so on. A bit like before the centenary, when the Mayer of Johannesburg was supposed to come just a bit more of that. We would need to make all sorts of preparations and provisions. And we would feel a certain anxiety as we would wait for the day of his coming. That is the kind of atmosphere here in the opening chapter of the fourth Gospel. It is clear, the stage is being prepared for someone important to come but before he even appears, some things need to be sorted out. The one, of course, is Jesus, but we dont even get to him in the text we read today. We first have to deal with John the Baptist. We need to understand the relationship between him and the one who is to come. The fourth Gospel (we usually call it G o John but I will avoid that, because it gets confusing if we talk about another John in the text all the time) opens with a solid piece of theology: In the beginning he word already existed etc. So the actual narration starts in v 19 and it turns immediately to the issue of his relationship between John the Baptist and the one who is to come. Its almost like the storyteller cant wait to make very sure, who John is NOT. Its a bit like I come to visit you and before I even enter the house or say hello or introduce myself I tell you (and insist): I am NOT the president of SA.

2012 REVD DR LUTZ ACKERMANN FRIEDENSKIRCHE, HILLBROW

And please note, for the records, I am not so-andso, either. And to make sure this doesnt go unnoticed, there are officials present from Jerusalem. All they do is ask: Who are you? Isnt it strange that with an open question like this one, John the Baptist can answer like that: I am definitely not the anointed one call him Christ or Messiah I am not the one. Wait a minute, who said anything about the Christ? We dont see that anywhere in the text, but we can sense this need to make sure from the beginning that there is no confusion. Already in v7 we hear about John that he came to tell people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe. He himself was not the light. Can you see how much effort the writer puts into making sure that we understand the difference between John t.B. and the one who comes after him? Then other options are explored: are you Elijah, are you he expected prophet but John denies them all, and finally, almost in exasperation, the officials ask him once again: So who are you now? You must be someone. Tell us, who you are, we need to know it for our records. And finally John comes up with a statement, but surprisingly he still doesnt say directly, who he is. It is almost like he is saying: I am not someone, I am a nobody. He doesnt say, who he is but he tells them, what he does.
2012 REVD DR LUTZ ACKERMANN FRIEDENSKIRCHE, HILLBROW

I am a voice he says, a voice crying out loud. Like the thunder that announces the approaching storm. Like a voice in a lonely place. Imagine you are out there in the velt, far away from anybody else, it is so quiet; and all of a sudden you hear someone singing or shouting very loud. Wouldnt you be surprised? So after all that, whatever comes next must be a very important announcement. Even if we didnt know, what it is that this voice has to say, we would know that it must be extremely important. After all that back and forth about who John is or is not. After him telling us that he is not about himself but a voice of someone crying out for preparations to be made, it is clear: whatever comes next, whoever comes next is of utmost importance. And luckily his message is rather simple and easy: Make a straight path for the Lord to travel! John is here like a forerunner, a verger, making a way. All this is not about him; it is about the one who comes after him. Sure enough, in the next section of this chapter he meets Jesus and he identifies him as the one who is the Lamb of God. In the fourth Gospel there is little doubt: this Jesus is the anointed one of God, he is the Christ and no one else. It seems to be universally understood and acknowledged. Make a way for the Lord means: here comes the one who has a right on our lives like no-one else. It means: get prepared, be ready.
2012 REVD DR LUTZ ACKERMANN FRIEDENSKIRCHE, HILLBROW

But ready for what? Ready for the Word that became flesh. Ready for God to visit us in this our world. Ready for the one, who makes that clear like no-one else: God is on our side. God is there for us, in the flesh, in a real human being. As we come to the end of this time of Advent, we may have experienced some of that. We may have gone through some time of preparation. Getting ready. Ready for God to come to us. When we were little children, the time for Christmas to come would always seem so long. We couldnt wait for it! Day by day we were coming closer (door by door on the advent calendar) but it would always go so slow! Nowadays I feel like Advent is one of those times thats flying by. We are busy with all the stuff that needs to be done before the end of the year; or maybe we are already in holiday mood. But in any case, for me it does no longer feel so much like a time of waiting, of expectation. I dont know, should I blame the commercialisation of Xmas for that? Or is it just our general human tendency that we cant wait? Having to wait often seems like a waste of time. And often it is. Often I have to wait because of a lack of organisation or communication. Often I have to wait unnecessarily (because others are late or do not care) and I experience that as a waste of my time. But in all that, waiting for God for God to come into our lives can be a valuable exercise, in
2012 REVD DR LUTZ ACKERMANN FRIEDENSKIRCHE, HILLBROW

which waiting actually has got a value. Where waiting becomes part of our spiritual discipline, our spiritual formation. Because it is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting full of expectation. It is a waiting full of preparation. And so, as we finally approach Christmas, as we get our last preparations done, let us not forget to prepare, most importantly, ourselves. As important as all the outward preparations may be: more important it is to be prepared in our hearts. A quiet moment, a short prayer or even listening carefully to one of our many and beautiful Christmas Carols can be a key to finding that secret space, where Godself can prepare our heats for his coming. Amen.

And the peace of God, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus now and forever. Amen.

2012 REVD DR LUTZ ACKERMANN FRIEDENSKIRCHE, HILLBROW