Messengers – December 15, 2019

by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens

Today we light the Advent Candle for Joy. What brings you joy?

Each person, each experience, each passion has the ability to bring joy into our lives. AND we can be a messenger of joy and love and compassion to others.

In our culture there is no shortage of messages we receive: from our phones, texts, social media, direct messages, advertisements, films, TV shows, books, news organizations…etc etc etc… the messages come quickly and leave us overwhelmed. And while some messages can be hopeful and affirming, those ones we remember are those that are hateful, destructive and damaging to our self-worth. 

So, Friday I did something drastic. I deleted my Twitter account. I often think about social media as a room filled with the personalities we “like” or “follow.”  When I began my Twitter account, I found joy in conversations, I found joy in communicating with people who shared my opinions and values. Now, I am not a big Tweeter, but when I do it is often my political side that comes out, so when I did tweet on Friday, suddenly I had people who “liked” what I said, and those that didn’t, and filled my page with negative and disturbing messages. And after a few hours of blocking people, I had the image of that room of my Twitter account, with real people (I assume) shouting negative messages at me, and I thought, “why am I here? This no longer brings me joy. I don’t have to ingest all this hatred. I choose to remove myself from this situation.” 

The messages we receive can be either positive or negative, but somehow the negative messages have more power to overwhelm us with self-doubt, worry and feelings of inadequacy. 

Messages are important. The messages we send and the messages we receive. 

As we continue on journey of advent, we find ourselves – once again –  in the presence of John the Baptist. Now, in our Christmas story, in our nativity scenes, in our pageants and plays, John the Baptist is not a regular character. Who was John? What do we know about him?

  • Parents: Zechariah and Elizabeth, birth story in Luke.
  • He was an ascetic living in the wilderness, clothed in camel hair and subsisting on locusts and wild honey.
  • He was a prophet and an agitator.
  • John was sentenced to death and subsequently beheaded by Herod Antipas sometime between 28 and 36 AD
  • John had a following of disciples who shared common practices such as fasting and prayers. John’s disciples survived his death and spread throughout the Mediterranean world. 

Why do we study John during Advent? Because John preached preparation for Jesus – “Prepare the Way of the Lord” he cried in the wilderness, and thats what we do during Advent.

So here we find John, after his preaching int he wilderness and his agitating land him in prison. Author Mary Donovan Turner describes the scene this way:

John sat in his prison cell staring at the four walls that kept him from freedom. He could no longer look upon the familiar landmarks of the country he loved. He was cut off from his friends. He was disconnected from his community and stranded in a limited world, a world filled with uncertainty. He remembered the days in the wilderness when every word he spoke exuded certainty and assurance. (1)

And John begins to hear about what Jesus is doing. But Jesus was not doing anything that John had promised: John had preached that the Coming One would baptize in the Spirit and fire, casting the wicked into a furnace of fire (3:10-12). 

John has heard of the miracles that Jesus was performing, the healings and the preaching. But he’s in prison. He will die in prison. There are no miracles coming his way from the one he called “more powerful” (3:11)

So, now he send a question via messenger, “Go ask Jesus… “Are you the coming one or is there someone else? Are you it? Because you are not what I expected.”

Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 

This is the one about whom it is written,“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way before you.”

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Jesus confirms John’s identity and he does so by referring to the scriptures his audience knows: In verse 10, Jesus  describes John:

“This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way before you.’ “

Now this is a quote that combines Malachi 3:1 and Exodus 23:20, comparing the  role of the prophet to the traveling crier. A royal crier would precede the king in areas to be visited and announce his coming. “The King is coming! The King is coming! Get Ready because the King is Coming!” The local people would prepare for the king’s arrival with public work projects, to make the roads straight, to clear the paths of the clutter and the blockages.(2)

As Christmas approaches, it’s time to ask the question. How are we to get ready? What paths do we need to clear so that Jesus can enter into our lives? How can we prepare ourselves to brings messages of joy to others? How can we focus on all that provides us with joy? And let us get ready for the coming of Joy into our lives found in the birth of a baby. Amen.

1. Mary Donovan Turner, in Christian Century (December 6, 1995, p. 1173)

2. Larry Broding, found on