John the Baptist was sent to testify – to witness – to the truth of Jesus’ identity. He was sent to bear witness to the light that was coming into the world – so that all might believe. This light was the light of all people; the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome its brilliant light.
John made it very clear that he was NOT the light – he was simply a messenger, a voice, who was sent to announce the coming of the light of life.
Evenso, people wanted to know more about him. He was an intriguing fellow, camel hair coat and all. “Who are you?,” they asked. But that was not the right question. The question should have been, “Who is this light that you speak of?” and “What will he do for the world?” Not, “Who are you, John?”
The people of John’s day, especially the religious leaders, failed to see John as a witness to the coming Messiah. And because they rejected his witness – they also rejected the One he was witnessing about when Jesus came. John was rejected and Jesus was rejected.
It’s one of the toughest of human emotions to handle. It implies we’re not good enough or not valued, we’re not worthy to be trusted or praised, we’re not the right person! We (almost) always take rejection personally – because, well, it’s personal! Even if it’s not personal, we tend to take rejection personally – for example a job interview (didn’t get the job? Maybe you weren’t the right person for the job – we take that awfully hard and we don’t even ever really know the circumstances or the other candidates for the position!) But more often than not, rejection causes us pain. We see it most clearly in situations like divorce, getting fired from a job, or even when friends walk away from us.
Rejection and physical pain have the same effect on our bodies. Studies have shown that MRI’s of the brain show no distinction between the stimuli of rejection felt after a break-up in a significant relationship and the occurrence of physical pain. Evolutionary psychologists have a theory about that: they say that perhaps the pain felt because of rejection caused early humans to change their behavior in order to fit into the expected norms of the community. Perhaps that is still true today; if a person acts strangely or unacceptably, the community responds to them by letting them know their behavior is not okay. A person can either change to fit in or continue to risk ostracism.
With that in mind, do you think John the Baptist cared about the rejection he experienced? Maybe, maybe not!
John knew his purpose – to bring good news about the coming Messiah. He knew this mission wasn’t about him. He knew his preaching wouldn’t be popular: “Repent – turn from your sin!” (No one likes to hear that even when we know we are mired in sin!) He knew he was sent from God and had a specific reason for doing what he was doing – to till the soil of the hard hearts of the people to receive the Son of God into their midst. Some listened, but more did not – many rejected John and eventually he was imprisoned and murdered for his message.
Jesus didn’t fare any better, that’s for sure! Recall the numerous betrayals that Christ suffered – the worst of all from his closest friends! He spent most of his time with the 12 who in the end denied they even knew him. Jesus also knew that many would resist his message of salvation, but that never stopped him!
The theme for the third Sunday in Advent is “joy” and Jesus is our greatest joy! Because of him we get to live life in true freedom. Freedom from sin and death and freedom for a greater purpose. We have the joy of being in true communion with our heavenly Father and even in the worst of times we get to experience true joy that the Spirit brings to us through faith.
Christ is our Alpha and Omega – our beginning and our end. Even when we suffer the pain of rejection in our families, our community, and beyond, we are reminded of Christ’s strength in the face of the same. He will never turn from us – and he knows that following him in this life can be a difficult journey. But he gives us joy, a deep sense of contentment and purpose which keeps us going. He leads us out of the wilderness of sin and into freedom. We, like John, are witnesses to his light and love. We take that joy into a world in need ( a world filled with rejected and hurting people just like us) and we share his great love for them.