Tuhina Rasche, San Carlos, CA

Warm-up Questions

  • How would you answer the question, “Who are you?”
  • What are some of the identities you have? A child? A sibling? A student? A friend? Try to name all of the identities you carry within you. 
  • Who are you as a follower of Jesus?

Who Are You?

“Who are you?” Isn’t that the easiest question in the world to answer? Actually, it can be one of the hardest. When someone asks, “Who are you?” how do you respond? Do you just give your name? Where you’re from? Who your parents are? What if you’re single? What if you identify yourself by the people you know, your friends, the organizations you belong to, where you work? Because when we get below the surface of, “Who are you?” There are a lot of ways we can respond.

I’ve really struggled with this question, and to be entirely honest, I don’t know quite how to answer it. There are so many parts of my life which make up the entirety of who God created me to be. I’m not just one single self.  A lot of different pieces form me into be the person I am today. I will always be a child, a sibling, a partner, a pastor, a writer, a sewer, a boxer, a prayer, a singer, and so much more. Yet there comes a time when one aspect of my identity is highlighted, while the others are still a part of me, but not at the forefront. Parts of my identity surprise people (it seems not a lot of people have met a female-identifying pastor who likes to box). Other aspects of my identity come as no surprise (a praying pastor seems pretty standard).   

 You may have asked this question of others, “Who are you?” How have they answered? Has it also been a list of identities, or a shrug of the shoulders, not knowing how to answer this question? Why is it so hard to have just one answer to this one simple question?

Discussion Questions

  • Who are the people in your life who have pointed you to Jesus? How did they show you who Jesus is in the world? 
  • When were you baptized? Do you remember the story of your baptism? Who was surrounding you when you were baptized? If you haven’t been baptized, who would you want around you as your elders and guides?
  • Where in this time have you seen God present and active in the world? How could you tell it was God?

Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8, 19-28

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Today’s Gospel feels like déjà-vu. Haven’t we been here before, with a guy out in the middle of nowhere baptizing people? This is the second week in a row that the Gospel spends time with John in the wilderness. Last week’s Gospel introduced us to John the Baptizer, clothed in camel’s hair and eating a diet of locusts and wild honey. John even uses similar words from last week’s Gospel, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” 

Why in the world would those who prepared the lectionary give us yet another story of John just one week later? Perhaps it is because last week’s John the Baptizer is different from this week’s John. This week, we get to know John the witness. While he is still baptizing in Bethany, across the Jordan, there is something is different. This week’s John is “a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”

Because of what John is doing, he’s getting attention from the religious leaders. It’s a big deal when priests and Levites go out to Bethany. They trek out to the middle of nowhere because they want to know who John is. They ask him twice. “Who are you?  Maybe Elijah? A prophet?”  John answers that he is none of these. John even tells them that he’s not the Messiah. The people in power want to know who he is and why in the world he is baptizing without the authority of leaders, if he’s not claiming to be the Messiah, Elijah, or a prophet.  John is comfortable with saying only who he is not. 

There could be many a reason as to why the priests and Levites ask John these questions and take the time to confront him in the wilderness. Maybe they’re frustrated that he isn’t following the teachings and practices of religious leaders in his baptizing and witness. They might be frustrated because they don’t know who John is; they can’t put a neat label on him. The priests and the Levites are uncomfortable not knowing who John is and why he is doing what he is doing. 

This Gospel lesson speaks directly to our time of Advent, our time of waiting and anticipation. We know, yet at the same time, we don’t know. John the witness tells us of Christ, but we have yet to see, meet, know, or touch Christ. We know Christ will come again; we just don’t know when. When Christ does arrive, then what? John tells the priests and Levites, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.” 

This should make us think. Is this story our here and now? Is there someone among us whom we do not know? John tells us Christ is coming, not just in the following pages of the Gospel long ago, but here and now.  He is currently among us. 

 Do we know God among us? I am terrified by the question, “Am I so preoccupied with distractions that I don’t  notice the one who is among us?” God is here, yet we are also waiting for the complete restoration of the world to the way God wants it to be. We continue to wait, and this waiting is not easy. 

Discussion Questions

  • Would we know if God is present among us? Where are the places and spaces we may miss recognizing Jesus in the here and now? How could it be easy to miss knowing that Christ is within our midst?
  • Why are we so uncomfortable in not knowing, much like the priests and Levites being uncomfortable not knowing John’s identity? What are things we can do to keep us centered in the midst of unknowing?
  • Why do we hear two different stories about John the Baptist, one from last week’s Gospel and one from this week’s Gospel? What are the differences between these tellings of John’s life? What are the similarities? What do these two Gospel readings tell us about John?

Activity Suggestions

  • Part of Advent is keeping awake and being aware. This is an opportunity to be aware of the breath of God within each of us. It is through this breath we know Jesus is among us, especially as our neighbors near and far live and breathe. Breathe in one verse of Scripture, then breathe out. As an example, use “Make straight the way of the Lord.” When inhaling, think of “Make straight.” When exhaling, think of “the way of the Lord.” This is a way to pray along to Scripture and to be aware of your breathing. 
  • Do you have an Advent calendar to mark the days of Christmas? Have you tried a reverse-Advent calendar? Contact your local food bank to figure out what they need. For each day of Advent, collect one canned item. When Advent is over, deliver the contents of your reverse Advent calendar to the food bank to make sure that Christ will be fed in our midst.
  • Waiting is hard, especially during a pandemic. While you are in places and spaces of waiting, write a note to a loved one, text a message of encouragement to a friend, or take a picture of something near you that you find interesting and beautiful. 

Closing Prayer

Holy God, help us keep awake. If we are awake, we will know the one who is present among us. Hold our distractions at bay.  They keep us from knowing Jesus, who is present among us today. Gift us with the ability to take time, to slow down, to be still, and to be awake to you,  who is so common and ordinary, yet wondrously present. Amen.