“I Must Decrease So That He Might Increase”

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this message at Resurrection on December 14, 2014, the Third Sunday in Advent.  The gospel reading is John 1:6-8, 19-28.


Dear Friends in Christ,


The days are growing shorter and shorter and soon we will be at December 21st, the day of the year with the least amount of sunlight.  And the days start to grow longer and longer until June 21st, the day of the year with the most amount of sunlight.  How apropos that today we hear about John who baptized Jesus, the one who declared, “I must decrease so that He might increase.”


John knew his place and his call from God.  Some thought that he might be the Messiah promised by God.  He said emphatically, “ I am not the Messiah.  I am not  the Light that shines in the darkness.”  What a contrast his declarations are in the Gospel of John to what Jesus says.  Jesus says “I am the Light of the World;  I am the Bread of Life; I  am the Good Shepherd.”  Remember back in Genesis when God introduced himself to Moses as “I Am”?


Last week in the gospel reading and in the sermon we talked about John the Baptist.  You won’t hear me speak about him today with that name.  Why?  Because in the gospel of John, which we are using today, he is never called John the Baptist.  Rather, he is presented as John the Witness.  His primary role is to testify to the Light.


There is a miraculous story of light that comes to us from Western Pennsylvania.  Some years ago 9 miners became trapped in a flooded mine.  Those injured and desperate men tied themselves together so that the stronger could sustain the weaker one as they waited to be rescued.  It took 5 long days.  No one could believe when all miners emerged safely from the mine.


Seven days after they emerged, the people of the small mining community gathered for a worship service to thank for saving the miners’ lives.  At the service there were 10 miner’s lamps on the altar, even though there were only 9 miners.  The pastor said that the 10th lamp represented God’s presence, which the miners claimed they could feel as they waited to be rescued.  It was this “10th man” they honored as they read Psalm 103, “Praise the Lord…Who redeems your life from the pit.”  It would seem to me that today you and I also gather to celebrate the “10th man”, the one who continuously an eternally rescues us from the pit…


The three appointed lessons for today have something in common: they are all centered on hope.  Isaiah the prophet was called to bring good news to people in Jerusalem who had come back from captivity and were depressed because the rebuilding of the city and their lives was going so slow.  Isaiah announces God’s blessing and says the future is bright because God is in charge and has promised to fulfill His blessings. Isaiah calls for an attitude change.  Don’t be discouraged.  God has chosen you and will not abandon you.  Begin living now as if you believed that God will deliver on his promises and not as if the future is only in your hands.


The second lesson, in a letter written by Paul to the Christians at Thessalonica, says that in this time of waiting until the return of Jesus, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”


These words of hope give me pause to think about something…Clergy often are accused of being too optimistic about life and the future.  In every congregation I’ve served, someone has said to me, “You always see the cup half full, instead of half empty.”  Usually someone adds, “I don’t think you are being a realist.”


I’ve thought about those comments often in my ministry.  How does my hopeful outlook on life affect those I’m called to serve and lead? 


I know that I personally respond better to words of encouragement and hope that I do to words of discouragement and failure.  The football coach could say, “You bunch of losers.  We’re behind 28 to 0 at half-time.  If you don’t start playing better, you deserve to lose!”  I’m sure that will provide motivation to win…What a positive message…


Sometimes the way we think and treat people is more influenced by how we were raised than by biblical principles.  I remember a reaction I got one day after church in La Canada, California.  During the announcement time, I had called the members of the youth group forward and told them that I was proud of them for a project that they had completed.  As I remember, the project benefited some needy folks in the community.  A member of our church council told me later that I was wrong to say I was proud of our youth.  He said it would lead to vanity and pridefulness.  I’m still amazed; because my parents often told me as I was growing up that they were proud of me.  It encouraged me to continue doing my best to please them…


The thing that people seem to often remember about John is that he called the people to repent of their sins.  That’s the vivid picture given to us in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew.  You are to repent of your sins and then be baptized, he declares.  In Luke repentance is connected to living in a different way.  John says all are to share with folks in need.  Tax collectors are to collect no more than is fair.  Soldiers are told to treat people honestly.  But now consider what the Gospel of John presents to us about John and repentance.  The word repentance isn’t even mentioned in John’s Gospel.  That John baptized is mentioned in passing, but his chief role is to point to Jesus as the Messiah promised by God.  In John’s Gospel, the chief actors are God and Jesus.  Repentance and confession of sins are not pre-requisites for the salvation that God will bring.  Amazing.  It is pure grace that John is preaching, not hell, fire and damnation that he is often associated with.


I conclude with a quote from John Killinger in his book Letting God Bless You.  “Permit God to bless you.  Don’t look around and think how hard life is.  Look around and see how filled with mystery and goodness it is.  See how wonderful the world look when you see that God is at work redeeming I (and encouraging it) so that humility and purity and compassion and longing for justice and peace will all be fulfilled and rewarded in the eternal scheme of things.”


To Killinger’s words I say “amen!”  If you learn to live this way every day, you will trust in the Lord and believe that you future and the future of this world are in the hands of the One to whom John pointed, Jesus, the Light of the World.


Come, Lord Jesus.  Come!