A Brief Snapshot of John the Baptist and His Message to the Waiting World – “FOCUS!”
3rd Sunday in Advent, December 11, 2011
the Rev. Michael Trent Shaw
Gracious, Loving Father in Heaven,
You are greatly to be praised for Your power and majesty – in fact for all You are;
But in this day and age we must remember You are greatly to be praised for the blessed fact that you have done great things for us, Your people.
As John the Baptist admonished the people of his day,
Help Your flock, O LORD
to restore completely our vision of You
the unsurpassed glory of great, great, great LOVE,
and in Your purpose of our whole lives.
Restore the vision
we entreat You.
Make us whole again.
Make your people holy,
So that we may, having disposed of our own selfish ideas and agendas,
clearly and completely and unstintingly and caringly
reflect Jesus’ wondrous, healing, powerful glory ever outward to
this waiting, wanting, unknowing world.
We ask Your Holy Spirit’s presence always among us,
testifying and bearing witness to all these things,
Guiding, guarding, comforting, and counseling us in
In the matchless name of our LORD and Savior Jesus,
Many stroke survivors tell of a particular side-effect that manifests with the sudden illness and lingers for some time afterward – a lessening of or inability to concentrate or focus. Somehow the sense filters (especially those related to things visible and audible) are desensitized. Going into a very active and noisy environment can be completely distracting, unnerving, side-tracking. In the midst of such a stimulus circus, the need to exit or at least find relief becomes the new focus, if wayward focus can be refocused. Ooh, look! A bird!
Who among us hasn’t experienced or even practiced something like this. Attending to a quickly nimble, active, curious toddler in a busy toy store during the lead up to the gift giving portion of the Christmas season, you notice that she or he has lost focus on your movement through the store. In fear of losing the child, you sternly look at them like this and point at your eyes and say, “Sweetheart…insert name here…FOCUS…look at me……FOCUS…”
It seems to me, in this rather distracting day and age, practically everyone suffers with a similar affliction, with similar effects.
Here in the hyperactive west we have at our immediate disposalnot only print, news, and televised media, for example, we have a virtual stimulus invasion of multimedia. Constant contact with a whirlpool stream of stuff practically demanding our attention. All.The.Time. Within that whirlpool stream are even little side currents, as if the main torrent were not enough to occupy us. Eddies. Whirlpools within the whirlpool. Our focus is under assault. Assault without ceasing. I wonder if at times we even realize…
This is true of all the world around us. Sensory chaos. Competition for attention. Ideas seeking eyes and ears and hearts and bank accounts and minds and…
Yes, there is and always has been competition for our very souls. One of the reasons I like Advent so much is that it is a soul refocusing time. A time of penitence. A time of return. Not only is Jesus returning, we are to account for our returning ever to him when we tend to take that wayward stroll or two. Or three. A time of anticipation. Wait. Watch. Prepare. Expect the Second Advent.
Tell me something. Does the following sound like you? Friday night was a full moon evening. Clear sky. Perfect temperature. Beguiling breeze. Mars circuited adjacent to the Moon. It was as if Mars was the Moon’s advance man, if you will. I could have sat outside in our back yard oasis for hours. Do you fancy yourself like me, an amateur astronomer? What a wonderful thing to focus on from time to time! The immensity and wonder of creation. By itself, it practically dares you to contemplate God.
On the same token, focusing on both Advents is much more the beneficial exercise. It is an exercise in the eternal verity of God and His love for us.
We are a people between Advents. It is a wondrous time. It is a harrowing time. We grasp and know the reality of the First Advent. The LORD be praised. He is faith-full. We have plentiful corroborating attestation from that great cloud of witnesses of 2000+ years of Christian testimony and 2000+ years of the movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of quite literally hundreds of millions. Amen? AMEN.
Since He has performed the manifold ministrations of His First Advent to perfection, we may be very well assured He Shall gather His faithful children like the Good Shepherd he is at His Second Advent.
Here the focus is crystal clear, full high-def fidelity. The air is rarified and sweet. When attempts are being presented to drag us down into the dark whirlpools of the world’s troubling godlessness, we have the crystalline alternative ever before us.
Of the world, there are nearly infinite political ideologies, pluralistic worldviews, the latest in self-actualization, the newest in appeals to appearance enhancement, the latest perfect person to emulate and idolize, the promise that self-indulgence of practically every sort is a fundamental human right, manifest destiny anyone? The world is both awash in and saturated by such human agendas. It is a restless cacophony of noise, mean to distract us from Him. From Jesus.
Listen. Listen. Powers and principalities are at work here. There is a dark spiritual reason that distractions are so numerous and deafeningly loud.
Do we not know this?
Have we lost awareness?
Have our filters been desensitized?
Have we let ourselves get in over our heads in the deep of the whirlpool?
What and/or whom are we focused upon anyway?
Are we focused on our belly buttons? Some new methodology that will bring riches, fulfillment, better everything, better everyone? Riches? Power? So called security?
Are we in the dark?
Isn’t the world in the dark?
Is there anything left to believe in?
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
Who was John the Baptist anyway?
The Biblical accounts are nearly all we have on this rugged individual prophet. The only historian of the time, Josephus doesn’t give us much else than Scripture. So, what do we know?
He was sent from God. What a purpose/mission statement, eh?
Are we not sent from God, each and every one of us…without exception?
The LORD our Redeemer formed us from the womb. He formed us from the womb to be his servants. There’s scripture homework for you. Please take a look at Isaiah 44:24 and 49:5 for these references to our origin, our purposes, and our foundation.
Furthermore, John the Baptist came as a witness to the light of the world. A witness to the One out of whom would continuously flow an unending, depthless river of living water. Living water.
The light was and is of utmost importance. Focus on Him. Always. And all ways.
John’s purpose was to draw attention, not to himself, not to some peer reviewed strategy paper, not to some enlightened group of mystics, not to a glorified think tank. But to one whom whose sandal he could not possibly dare to loosen.
John had a focus. To focus the world on a person. Not a thing. Not a mystical concept. Not a personal, advantage-taking way of making friends and influencing people and bending fortune in our direction.
A person very like us in historical, time/space reality. A person LIKE US.
But not as we are, because he was sinless; because he was, and is, and shall be Emmanuel, God.
WITH us. With us between Advents.
John the Baptist was so focused on his role of heralding of the earthly appearance of God in flesh that he was known to say “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (see John 3:30)
Beloved, we must decrease (step back, drop our personal agendas, and so on) so that Jesus will increase. Increase despite our imperfection, shine because of our total reliance and dependence upon Him!
John decidedly, emphatically, forcefully, permanently set himself aside. Transparentized himself. Disappeared his self in order that the supremacy of Jesus’ holy self and purpose shone as the very brightest of light.
John, in no uncertain or waffling way whatsoever, shows us by his example that, unless Jesus as LORD, Savior, and God is our focus…unless this is so…we are left in the whirlpool…in the dark without THE LIGHT.
Is that our desire? To remain and dwell in darkness?
Our true importance in the scheme of all creation is wondrously and totally dependent upon that fact of true and unending life in Jesus! The Light.
To illustrate this, please allow me a moment of reflection on a seemingly insignificant moment in my life some 43 years ago. (My, oh my, that’s a big number.) My 6th grade boys Sunday school teacher, Mr. Art Hiltibran, had a knack for object lessons showing us what Jesus was like. One Sunday in particular, the lesson was on the faithfulness of Jesus. In our Sunday school room was a long table. Standing at one end of the long side of the table, Mr. Hiltibran instructed us one by one, to go to the opposite end of the table. He told us that under no circumstances were we to look at anything except his eyes the whole time. After that he said, “All right, one by one, starting from the other side of the room start walking toward me in a straight line toward the table. Keep moving until you reach me where I am. This will work just fine.” To my memory not a one of us 15 or so boys exactly were able to do as instructed. As we ambled, eyes on Mr. Hiltibran, to the table, we paused, looked down at the table, climbed onto it, and made our way to our teacher. After we had all – we thought – successfully completed the task, Mr. Hiltibran asked us, “Why did you look at the table and not keep your eyes on me?” We all protested that if we hadn’t looked down at the table we would have ended up getting hurt or something. “Men (I recall he called us men with some regularity), here’s what faith means. You respond in faith when I am faithful to advise you at the right moment to get onto the table. You need not fear that I would have let you bump yourself into the obstacle. I tried to assure you.”
“You did not know it, but I gave you reasonable assurance that it would work just fine. Your reasoning skill should have assured you that somehow I would prevent you from ramming into the table . But I guess reason was not enough.”
“You (really we all) require a greater assurance than our own reasoning skills provide us. Reason works OK up to the point of ramming into an obstacle. At that point, we’re on our own.”
“Gentlemen, if you had completely focused on my instructions, I would have advised you exactly when to reach out to the table to get onto it. I would have been faithful in my protection of you. That’s a kind of faithful assurance. But the real thing, the true article of faithful assurance comes only from Jesus.” I think at this point he may have, in his baritone voice, sung a bit of Blessed Assurance Jesus I Mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine. Mr. Hiltibran went on, “Reasonable assurance often has us giving up. Faithful assurance always has us looking up. Up toward Jesus.”
“Reasonable assurance often has us giving up. Faithful assurance always has us looking up. Up toward Jesus.”
Brothers and sisters, the LORD has told us He will never leave us or forsake us (see Joshua 1:5 and Hebrews 13:5). Furthermore, He has emphatically promised us he will be with us even to the very end of the very end (see Matthew 28:20). We have faith-full assurance. We may focus our continual gaze on His face ever and always.
It is imperative that we do so at such a time as this!
E’en so LORD Jesus quickly come!