Scripture Reading: John 1:6-8, 19-28
Mistaken identity happens all the time. People are unsure of who it is they are seeing and think it’s someone else. I remember walking into a fast food restaurant once and thinking I saw a friend inside, so I waved, and they waved back. But once I walked through the door I realized I had no idea who this person was. It happens. Our brains are wired to try and make sense of what’s happening around us. So when someone has features similar to someone we know, people who share those features will remind us of that person.
Bev and I were on vacation in Toronto once just a few days before the Toronto International Film Festival and we were checking out the shops and areas down by the waterfront. As we were walking around with some friends I was approached by a man.
“I know you!”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“You’re one of those movie stars aren’t you?”
“No, I don’t think so”
“Yes you are, you’re that guy, umm… umm…”
“No, I’m just here on vacation from Ottawa.”
He looked at me suspiciously, and since he couldn’t quite spit out who I was, he kind of grudgingly walked away.
Now it was kind of flattering to be misidentified in that way, but it was also a little scary because I had no idea what this guy was going to do, especially if I didn’t confess to being a Hollywood movie star. So in the end I was very relieved the encounter was short lived and uneventful. It can be intimidating when you are walking around a big city for the first time and have such a strange encounter with a stranger.
I’m sure you all have your own stories of mistaken identities, some of which are probably embarrassing to you or to the other person. It’s nothing new today, we even see mistaken identities in the Bible.
We read about one example this morning when we looked at a point in the life of John the Baptist. The Jewish leaders have been hearing about some guy out in the wilderness preaching and baptizing people. It sounds like he’s having a fair bit of influence on the population, people are changing their lives, so they want to know more about him. They see him as potentially a significant religious figure, so the leaders sent priests and Levites to figure out who he is.
The priests and Levites are experts on Scripture and would know how to best interpret the religious importance of John. As they get to John they start asking some questions.
“Are you the Messiah?”
“No, I’m not the Messiah.”
“Are you Elijah?”
“No, I’m not Elijah.”
“How about the Prophet, are you the Prophet?”
“No, I’m not the Prophet.”
I picture them huddling together for a moment, “He’s not the Messiah. He’s not Elijah. He’s not the prophet…. who else could he be? You got any more names we can ask about? No? Well… I suppose we could just ask him. You want to do that? No! Ok fine, I’ll ask.”
**ahem** “Sir, we’ve been asked to come and find out who you are, so what should we tell them?”
John answers them straight up, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
The Pharisees seem to accept this answer, but they have a follow up question. “If you are not the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet, then what’s up with the baptizing?”
John says, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
The Pharisees returned to Jerusalem to report their findings, and John continued to do as he had been doing: preaching, teaching and baptizing, preparing people to recognize and know Jesus when he comes. He continues to prepare the way of the Lord, making things straight.
This is a wonderful scripture to consider during Advent. Why? Because something is about to happen, there seems to be a great anticipation building, so much that the Jewish leaders are sending people out to investigate rumours and wanting reports back. They feel like God is really up to something, and they want to be aware of it when happens.
Now of course, Jesus is already born at this point in the life of John the Baptist, but he hasn’t begun his public ministry. That will come soon enough. For now, there is more waiting.
Advent is a time of waiting, a time of resisting that urge to sing all the Christmas carols from the hymn book on December 1st. Resisting the temptation to trot out Jesus and place him in the manger. When you look at it that way, it can feel like a really long month.
I’m not a big fan of waiting. I’m usually early getting to events and places. If I want to leave at 10:30 to go somewhere, I’ll start checking my watch at 10:00, and then wait, and wait, and pace. I had to be somewhere for 4:00 last week, so I knew I had to leave around 3:45. I nearly drove myself crazy starting at 3:30, so I don’t know what the rest of the family was thinking, and they weren’t even going with me.
So I get it, waiting is hard. We want to rush right in there and get it all done. I’m the same way.
But, we can’t rush everything.
Sometimes waiting is good for us. Sometimes waiting brings about something special.
It certainly can be when it’s related to God.
Advent is one of those times. Yes, we’re only one more week until Christmas! We should be eating all the food. We should be opening presents. We should be all up in Christmas right now.
But there’s one more week. Can we wait? Can we still ourselves to remember the words of John, “Make straight the way for the Lord!” Can we remember we are waiting for the coming of one who is greater than all the prophets, all the leaders, all who lives on this earth?
Can we wait?
This week we’ll be thinking about Christmas dinners, what we have left to shop for; who’s coming to visit; who do we need to visit; what have we forgotten? To name a few things.
Let’s try not to rush through this week. Let’s take a pause and think about what we celebrate next Sunday night, and let us take some time to prepare our hearts for the celebration.
In the midst of preparing dinners and deserts, homes, gifts, and everything else we need to do, let’s not forget to prepare the most important thing: Our hearts.
John has asked us to get ready. He’s asked us to turn away from sin and embrace the one who is to come. He is pointing out to us the way to Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, the one who has come to save us all.
Are we ready?
Or is there still some things we need to take care of? A cleansing of our spiritual selves so to speak.
Jesus is a gift to the world that changes lives. I think there’s no question Jesus changed the lives of those he met while walking the earth. There’s his disciples. There’s those he met and healed along the way. There’s those he even brought back from the dead! The Bible is full of people who were changed by Jesus.
And he still changes lives today.
There are people out there who have met Jesus in dark moments of their lives. There are people out there who have met Jesus in other circumstances, better times maybe. There are people who know Jesus as people who have gone to church for as long as they can remember. There are people who know Jesus without ever having put a foot in the door of a church.
Those are the big stories of encounters with Jesus we sometimes here. Maybe you even know some people personally who have had these experiences. Maybe you’ve had one yourself!
But meeting Jesus is not the end of the story. Jesus will continue to change your life as you get to know him more.
Think of the disciples, they were chosen by Jesus to follow him. And immediately their lives changed. But was that it? Was that the only change they made? No. They kept changing, they kept growing as Jesus revealed more of his nature to them. And even after he died, even after he rose again, even after Jesus left them to go back to his Father in heaven, they still changed. Even as they began their own ministries, wandering the countryside preaching the Good News, they still continued to change.
So we also need to keep growing and changing.
The preparation continues. As we keep seeking Jesus, we will continue to grow in our faith, we will change in our hearts, we will become more like Christ the more we get to know him.
This is what we strive for. This is the deepest longing in our hearts, to be more like Christ and a child of God.
John told the leaders there was one among them they did not know. He is of course referring to Jesus.
Why didn’t they know him?
They weren’t prepared. Their hearts were not in a position to know him when he arrived. They were keeping busy with their daily routines of running the temple. See, even those who are seemingly close to God can miss him if they aren’t ready.
This week, in the midst of making sure everything is ready in your home, stop once in a while and ask yourself, am I ready? And of course I’m not talking about gifts, or food, or scrubbing the sink…
Is your heart ready for the incredible gift of joy we are offered in the life of Jesus?
Let us pray,
Help us to be ready. We have so much to do this week, we really do want to be ready. But also help us to realize there is more to being ready than the perfect home. There is also our heart.
Speak to our hearts, Jesus, help us to know you and your great love for us. Help us to understand your passion for us… you came in love for us.
We thank you Jesus, we love you, help us to show this love, and make straight the way for the Lord.
Amen and amen.