Faithlife Sermons

Who on earth are you?

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  1. William Willimon, Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, once said that it is common to hear "What are you getting for Christmas?" at this time of year.
    • Willimon says, Such a question plays right into the hands of the commercialism and materialism that mars the Christmas season.
    • And the answer is often about what tangible gift we hope someone will give us.
  2. Each of us kids knew, however, that if Aunt Ruby was the giver, the gift would be far from what we hoped. It would be socks or a shirt or something practical and CHEAP.
  3. It would be interesting to revisit Willimon's question today. "What are you getting for Christmas?" How would you answer it?

I. Strange man:

  1. John picked an odd place to do his preaching. It was out in the wilderness.
    • The idea of wilderness recurs throughout the Bible.
    • A wilderness can be a wasteland or just an uninhabited place.
    • It can be grassy and alive or dry and dead.
    • The Israelites wandered in the wilderness.
    • Jesus fed the 5000 in the wilderness.
    • Wilderness is synonymous with God's provision. An appropriate place for JB to preach.
  2. The pictures of JB in the gospels are of a man who is not concerned about social propriety or public approval.
    • Mark describes him as a man wearing a camel's hair hide and eating off the land.
    • Luke describes him as a very confrontive and blunt man calling the crowds, snakes.
  3. John's message was spare.
    • Bear fruit that befits repentance.
    • Share what you have with others.
    • Be baptized.
  4. GosJohn says that JB refused to accept any attention or credit for himself.
    • He came to testify to the light, John 1;7.
    • He confessed, 'I am not the Messiah, John 1:20.
    • I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness... John 1:23.
    • I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal, John 1:27.

II. A debate with our culture:

  1. John's audience might well have been a crowd you might see at the Merced Mall or at a parade downtown.
  2. They were people with a wide variety of wants and needs.
  3. They were curious, at some level, about JB's message.
    • Who are you? they asked. Perhaps thinking that John was the Messiah.
    • Apparently JB had a "messianic" appearance, in their view.
  4. It's interesting that JB takes his text from Isaiah 40. Written to people who needed some hope.
    • Comfort, O comfort my people... Isaiah 40:1.
    • Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low... Isaiah 40:4.
    • A voice cries out: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, Isaiah 40:3.
  5. JB's message to his audience was a debate with the culture in which they lived.
    • He called them to repent, John 3:8.
    • He called them to get ready for Messiah and make a straight highway, Luke 2:4.
  6. JB's was saying to his audience that they could not remain entangled in the culture and follow Messiah.

III. Light:

  1. The point of JB's message was to call attention to the LIGHT.
  2. JB called Jesus the true light, which enlightens everyone, John 1:9.
  3. Our relationship to the light depends on our relationship to the darkness. In J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings there is a character named Gollum.
    • Gollum began life as a normal human boy.
    • But his murder of his brother in order to possess a shiny ring caused him to retreat from light.
    • From that point on he lived in a subterranean place, hated the light, and became distorted in his appearance.
    • It's a similar process for anyone who flees from the light, and I think that is the idea that Tolkein had as he created Gollum.
  4. Willimon writes, Let’s simply admit that we are in the dark, that there is much that we don’t know. Truly.
    • We are in the dark about relationships.
    • We are in the dark about money and the material world.
    • We are in the dark about power and how to use it.
    • We are in the dark about sex.
    • We are in the dark about values.
  5. The religious leaders of Jesus' day wanted someone who spoke cool, soothing words of conventionality. They wanted soft, nightlight light, not hot, blinding spotlight light.


  1. John the Baptist is a good reality check for this question, What are you getting for Christmas?
    • The gospel writer, John, said that JB was a man sent from a witness to testify to the light.
    • JB was, in effect, saying, What you got for Christmas was light.
  2. One last quote from Willimon. At times you may have heard me say that I am bothered by some of the spiritual renaissance that is going on in our country. There seems to be a great resurgence of interest in something called spirituality.” Most of this strikes me as rather thin stuff, a kind of free-floating, vague openness to something or someone who is infinite, spiritual. “Spirituality” becomes simply a great basket into which we toss all of our expectations and desires, calling that “Spirit.”
  3. What are you getting for Christmas?
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