Point to Christ
—Gavin Koh, Third Sunday in Advent
John 1. 6–8, 19–28.
Christmas is probably the largest festival in Britain.
Christmas is celebrated by pretty much everyone in the UK, whether you are atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim. As many of you know, I work at GlaxoSmithKline, which is a large UK company. One of the things that surprised me when moving to GSK from the NHS, is that the whole company shuts down, from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day.
That means as a GSK employee, it doesn't matter whether you are Christian, atheist, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim, you have an enforced Christmas holiday whether you want it or not!
Christmas is a time of year when you will commonly find yourself talking to strangers or to people you barely know. Friends or relatives you only see once a year. People who do not normally come to church.
Although Christmas is a religious holiday, it is an unspoken rule that the British really don't talk about religion, sex or politics.
Politics? I can say that Brexit and Donald Trump have changed this, so that it is now very common to talk about Brexit or Trump at the dinner table, even with complete strangers.
Sex? There are plenty of people who watch Game of Thrones or Love Island on television, and I have found myself listening to people chatting avidly about people called Amber and Cara and Kem and Olivia, and I am pleased to say that I had not the faintest idea what they are talking about.
Religion! The only taboo remaining is religion.
The British really really don’t have conversations about religion. Here are some topics of conversation you really do not hear over dinner:–
‘What do you think of Exodus chapter 4?’
‘So, do you believe in predestination or do you believe that we have free will?’
‘I really felt that God was calling me to leave my old job to take up this new one.’
If you do hear people talking about God, then the automatic assumption is that these people are either weird or American.
Let’s talk about the weather instead!
‘Oh, wasn’t it cold last night?’
‘Yes, I spent ages scraping the frost off my car this morning!’
‘The pavement outside my street was like a skating rink! I thought I was going to fall!’
Why is it so uncomfortable talking about religion? The whole reason for Christmas is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Christmas is the biggest religious holiday of the year, and yet, at Christmas, people really really do not talk about religion.
Let's listen again to today's gospel reading:
So, the priests and Levites come to John the Baptist, asking him to explain who he is and John refuses. Instead, his response is to point to Jesus. Forget about me! I am not important! Look instead to Jesus! Look to God! Stop asking me who I am!
[The priests and Levites] asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’
As Christians, we are commanded to proclaim Christ, yet, it is very difficult to talk about Christianity right now.
Let me challenge you to search the news about Christians. Are Christians in the news right now? What comes up?
Christians apparently support racism.
Christians apparently support jailing homosexuals.
Christians apparently support the election of sexual predators and the sexual harrassment of women.
The word ‘Christian’ has become toxic.
So this Christmas, do you really want to tell strangers that you are Christian?
This year, in 2017, saying to people that you are Christian is equivalent to telling people that you are a lunatic and a bigot.
I think that everyone here, instinctively rebels at this view of Christianity. We who come to church, we think of the Peace of God and the all-encompassing Love of Christ. We do not think of the church as a place of hatred or of prejudice.
How do we, as Christians, respond to this depressing view of Christianity?
Human beings are imperfect. Christians are human, and therefore Christians are imperfect. However, as Christians, we are followers of Christ. We are called to be like Christ. It is Christ himself who is our guide.
If I disagree with your behaviour as a Christian, then I do not appeal to the behaviour of another Christian or the rules produced by another Christian, but to Christ himself. Christ himself is the example we follow. Christ himself will be our judge in the last day.
The gospels describe John the Baptist as looking a bit like a madman. He lived in the desert, he wore camel’s hair and ate locusts.
Is it any wonder that John received incredulous questions from priests and Levites?
John refused to say anything about himself. John instead insisted on pointing to Christ.
So the answer is this: Don’t talk about religion. Don’t talk about Christianity and Christians. Don’t point to this man or that woman; Don’t point to this priest or that bishop; Don’t point to this preacher or that speaker.
If other Christians behave disgracefully, then our response must be to point to Christ himself. If you shine the penetrating Light of God on that behaviour, then you do not have to pass judgement on these people, you have only to point out the actions and behaviour of Christ himself.
Feed the hungry,
Comfort the afflicted,
Love the outcast,
Forgive the wrongdoer,
Inspire those without hope.
It then becomes clear how far that behaviour falls short of the standard set by Christ himself. It then becomes clear that prejudice and hatred stand in stark contrast to Jesus’ own love and compassion. It is Christ to whom we look for guidance, it is Christ to whom we are all ultimately accountable.
This Christmas, let us point to Christ.