Sunday, January 3, 2021
Message from Reverend Jim Burd
"A Voice and a Light"
I lived most of my childhood years in the country. One thing I remember about the country was the nights. When it was dark in the country; it was really dark, especially in the woods near our house, and especially when there was no moon.
I know what real darkness is, because, as a boy, I went crawling in caves. I would take a big ball of string and tie it to a tree on the outside. I have been in a cave when the light was out. Believe me when I tell you; that's real darkness! I can't explain why I went into the caves when I was otherwise afraid of the dark! I guess there's something different about the dark in a cave and the dark in the woods or in a room in one's house.
At my house, everyone had a job. I had two. My jobs were keeping the woodbox full for my mom, who cooked on a wood stove. My other job was carrying two pails of water from the spring, daily, for drinking and cooking. I usually 'fetched' the water in the evening; before dark. On one particular day, I played too long and when I thought about fetching the water, it was dark. I asked if I could get up early the next morning and get the water, but my dad vetoed that idea. So off I went down the path to the spring to fetch the water. For some reason, it was a lot darker on the return trip and of course, I ran as fast as I could. Surely you've guessed that I'd spilled most of the water. When I got home, I was sent back to the spring to finish my job. I went to the spring and dipped the pails to nearly brimful and began my trek back to the house. In the meantime, my sweet mom had taken a kerosene lantern and lit it and stood on the porch, calling out, "Jimmy, is that you?" Over and over until I was safe at the porch steps. With her voice and her light, I made it home without any of the witches and goblins devouring me.
In today's Gospel, John speaks of himself as a voice and Jesus as the "Light that shines in the darkness." How important was John's voice, foretelling the coming of the light of the world! Nothing tames the terrors of the dark like a and a voice, as I had found out!
Israel was in the darkness of political oppression and occupation by the Roman government. John says in his Gospel that the true light has dawned upon his people; through John the Baptist's voice and the light of Jesus, the Christ!
All four of the Gospels tell about John the Baptist, yet most of the details come from Matthew and Luke. They tell us that he wore camel's hair. It is also said that he ate locusts, using honey to dip them in. Bryan Sirchio has a song in which he says that John the Baptist ate bugs for lunch-yuk, yuk, yuk!
John's Gospel tells of none of this. All John's Gospel tells us is that the Baptist was a voice; a witness. Some people standing in John's presence asked him, "Who are you?" Some thought he was Elijah, come back to life, others thought he was a prophet. John tells them that he is a forerunner; that one would come soon who was greater than him. In John's words, "The one coming after me will be greater than me, the thongs of whose sandals I would not be worthy to stoop to untie." This always reminds me of the story that takes place in an old western town.
The scene is a saloon (where else?). A rumor is going around that the dreaded 'Big Jake' is a -com'in. the bartender is in the process of getting his place braced for the destruction. All of a sudden, he looks up to see this huge hulk of a man, bursting through the bat-wing doors, and soon he's standing in front of him. He's packing the biggest guns few had ever seen; with bullet belts criss-crossing his huge body. The bartender offers him a drink and he replies, with his booming voice, "Whiskey." He downs it in one gulp and slams the glass down on the bar. He turns to leave.
"Would you like another?" asks the bartender. "Nope." replies the stranger. I got to get out of here fast." "Why's that?" asks the bartender. And the stranger replies, "I got to get ago'n cause I hear that big Jake is acom'in this a-way."
John the Baptist was big in the eyes of those who came to listen to him preach, but he wasn't as big as Jesus. Nobody was! Like everyone else, John was waiting for Christ, the Messiah, to come.
Even though we have all seen another New Year happen in our world, we are still waiting. I think that's exciting! Show me a person who is not waiting, not yearning, not leaning forward, standing on tiptoes, hoping for something better, and I will show you a person who has either fallen asleep or comfortably in the present arrangements. I think that's sad. The future belongs to those who wait; for those who know that they are meant for something better. My friends, the present darkness is not our final destination!
That's the great part of John's message! His was a voice; a voice spoken into our darkness, telling us that the light is always coming. John was a watchman, standing on a hill, looking east, from which comes all spiritual enlightenment. He did not know the complete shape of that hope. He was a voice; a voice calling into the darkness, telling people not to give up, telling people that their yearning was not mere wishful thinking; that their longing was an act of faith, coming out of a belief that God cares; that God will come and deliver!
We live in troubled times! We live in a world where guns and people with little regard for human life control them. There is no place where we can feel safe; not in school, not even in our church! But we must believe in the sanctuary of the spirit, where we can dwell in peace. It takes courage to admit to need; to expect and hope for the advent of something better.
Victor Frankl, in his account of "Man's Search for Meaning," tells of one who was thriving in a Nazi prison camp until he learned that his wife had died in another camp and he died. He died, not because he was ill or because he was tortured. He died because he had lost his hope.
My friends, we must have faith that there is a light that shines in the darkness of this troubled and dangerous world and that the darkness cannot overcome the light of Jesus Christ! We have heard a voice that tells us that it will be O.K. I'm glad you chose to worship on this first Sunday, to greet one another in joy and to share in Holy Communion. I find my greatest comfort in the church, in the sacrament, with my sisters and brothers in Christ. I hope you do too! Amen.
Peace I Leave with You, My Friends