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John 1:6-8, 19-28

By now, the holiday season is in full swing in many of our homes. Decorations have been put in place. Garland and lights and ornaments are strung on trees. The Christmas shopping list is dwindling with each passing week, at least for those of us not prone to shopping at the last minute. Some of us may even have packages already wrapped underneath the Christmas tree. In many ways it feels like Christmas is already here.  Many of us perhaps have celebrated a Christmas gathering or two, either with co-workers or family or friends. Loads of kids and their parents have made the annual pilgrimage to take pictures with good Saint Nick at the local shopping center.

And yet, we’re reminded this morning by John’s gospel that we’re not quite there yet.

Advent, as we know, means waiting. It’s a season as old as the Christian faith itself. In the earliest days of Christianity, followers of the risen Christ observed Advent as a time of preparation and waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus. During Advent, we wait. We wait with Mary and Joseph and we imagine what they might have felt and thought during the time leading up to the birth of Jesus. Advent marks the beginning of the church year, which is followed by the Christmas season and afterwards Epiphany (when we celebrate the wise men that came with gifts for the Christ-child).

During Advent we are reminded that, as Christ-followers, we are in a perpetual state of Advent, as we await the glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fullness of his kingdom. Advent is a time when we prepare our hearts room for the Messiah, an infant born in a manger, in lowly surroundings, yet king of kings, higher than any other.

Like a child who anticipates what she knows exactly will happen on Christmas morning, year after year, at Christmas time, we remember the things which would take place during the reign of Augustus Caesar in the town of Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. We know that our Christ comes to us. And because of this, we trust and believe in the promise of how the final chapters of salvation history will unfold—that in the fullness of time God in Christ will come again and, as the Psalmist writes, “restore our fortunes.” And “those who go out weeping…shall return home with shouts of joy.”

But the fullness of God’s kingdom has yet to be established. It’s so close, but we’re not quite there yet. This is what it means to say that as Christ-followers we are in a perpetual state of Advent. Our duty as Christ-followers is to wait with hearts that are open for the homecoming of our king and the gift of salvation he brings to all who live by faithfulness in him.

But waiting isn’t always easy.

I recall one of my first trips back home to Michigan from Illinois at Christmas-time while I was a student at college. The semester had winded down. Exams were finished. I was ready to go. The suit case was packed full of dirty clothes. (I’d timed it just right in the weeks beforehand, so I wouldn’t have to use the coin operated laundry machines in town.) I was prepared for the holiday season. The long trip from Greenville to Mount Morris takes about 8 hours or so, depending on how fast you drive and the number of stops you make. My brother and I, our luggage, along with three other college students and their luggage, all piled into a 1988 Cutlass Sierra. (Based on the smell, I’m fairly certain that everyone else had timed their laundry so that they didn’t have to do it at the Laundromat either.) The car we drove was painted blue and white; for the purpose of the illustration this detail doesn’t really matter, but you should know that the car we drove was literally painted like a cloud. Around campus it was known by the nickname, “Cloud 9.” Ironically, packed full of college students and their laundry, and without a reliable heater, the car didn’t quite feel like Cloud 9. But nevertheless, we were all grateful for the ride home. We began our journey around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, which would put us in at around midnight or 1am.

On that long stretch from Greenville to Indianapolis, and then from Indy to Fort Wayne, and then from Fort Wayne to Lansing, there isn’t much to do aside from sleep, or enjoy conversation, or just stare out at the snow and the stars. It’s a long trip. At times you’d feel so cramped that you’d ask for a bathroom break just to stretch your legs. But the hardest part was the last 30 to 40 minutes or so of the drive. (This always seems to be the case with long trips.) You know exactly where you are; you’re aware of how close you are to getting where you’re headed. You’re filled with anticipation. You can hardly wait to get out and stretch and hug your folks and pitch the fast food wrappers you’ve been sitting on for the past four hours, and yet, you’re forced to wait.

During the final leg of any long, evening journey, you exit the highway, you make your final turn, and then, the closer you come to it, you see the porch light shining. Have you had this experience before? Just a few moments longer, and you’re there, you’re we’re not quite there yet.

Perhaps that’s how John felt, in not so many terms.

He’d read the prophets. He knew well of God’s promise to restore the fortunes of Zion. He knew that God would provide liberty to the captives and release the prisoners. He knew that the day of the Lord’s favor was close at hand. He knew that those who mourned would be filled with peace and comfort, and that these would gain a mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

He knew that the Messiah was coming, that home with God was just around the corner. A time of great rejoicing was drawing near—when God’s people would finally find true rest and true joy in him. As the prophet Isaiah put it, “as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” John knew it. The journey was long and difficult, but the light which would illuminate the hearts of all men and women with had eyes to see it, was coming into the world. And John awaited its coming with eagerness and anticipation.

As the Scriptures tell us, the priests and the Levites approached him and questioned him as to whom he was. They wondered why he was so filled with anticipation for the coming of the day of the Lord. “I am the voice that cries out for people to prepare their lives for the one who is coming after me,” he told them, “the one who is so wonderful that I am unworthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” He knew it. The light was coming. And soon, the people of God would take notice and be forever changed by it.

John’s testimony to the religious leaders reminds us that that very same light, the truth of God which was soon to be revealed throughout Jerusalem and Judea and beyond, still shines in and among us. It shines in us when we have faith and put our trust in Christ Jesus and it shines among us when we embrace one another as the body of Christ Jesus and commit to loving relationships.

Scripture says that “He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”

John’s testimony ought to be ours as well: that each and every person might believe and find life in the light of our Messiah, who is God-with-us. Like John, we place our hope and trust in the fullness of what God will accomplish as the final day of the Lord approaches. The season of Advent reminds us that as Christ-followers, we are in a state of perpetual Advent. We wait and we watch for the light, the dawning of God’s new creation.

But it isn’t always easy to wait. Sometimes in the midst of waiting, we grow tired or we get side-tracked, or sometimes in our eagerness, we try to rush it.

In the busy-ness of the season, getting ready for all the Christmas parties, the gift-exchanges, or tying up loose ends before the end of the year, we become forgetful or side-tracked as to where it is that our journey leads us as people of faith. Or perhaps some of us are in such a rush to get there that we miss out the amazing things that we might encounter on the way to where we’re headed.

Paul cautions against this.

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:19. “Do not quench the Spirit.” In other words don’t snuff out the light of God which would shine in and among you, as you wait for his coming. Paul says this to a community of believers waiting on the return of Christ Jesus following the resurrection. They were filled with such anticipation and angst that they’d begun to quarrel and bicker and fight with one another. On their journey, they’d lost their way. They’d grown impatient; some had grown tired of waiting; others were in a rush; still others had gotten side-tracked by the lure of wealth and other gods and goddesses. But Paul reminded them that when we lose our focus, that’s when we break-down in our spirits, that’s when we start to feel lost along our journey toward home in God.

This is true for us too. In our waiting and anticipation some of us lose our way. In all the planning and preparation for the coming of our Lord during the holiday season, ironically, our tempers seem to grow shorter and we’re quicker to lash out at the ones we love, or, we rush the season and we miss out on the amazing things God has in store for us while we wait. And too, in our lives, some of us are in such a rush to leave “this old world” behind, that we miss out on the amazing things God would have us accomplish in and through this world, which he came to redeem and transform.

The challenge before us this morning, the challenge of the Advent season, is this. We’re nearly there, but not quite yet. Just like a long journey home, don’t rush it and don’t get sidetracked. Just when the road ahead seems impossibly long, when your destination seems so close yet so far away, remember that the light of God is shining and that the light which frees us from our sinfulness, illuminates the home that awaits us, if we carry on, if we continue the journey, with faith in our hearts.

Don’t rush it; don’t grow impatient. Don’t quench or snuff out the light that God would shine in you and through you to those around you, especially among those who have yet to discover what finding home in God really means. Receive the light of Christ in your life and be that light for others.

Be that light for others; for, it’s awfully hard to find your way home, when it seems that all the lights around you are turned out.

Just like John, we’re called to testify to that light—to see it and to embrace it and to follow it, and to have this light shining in us, so that others might know it and follow it as well.