2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall


Sermon Briefs: John 1:6-8, 19-28

Augustine focuses an Advent sermon1 on the humility of John the Baptist. He uses John's "light" metaphor in a creative way, saying that Christ lighted a lamp for himself so that he might be seen. John was that lamp. Augustine contrasts John's statement that he is not worthy to unloose the latchet of Jesus' shoe with the church's statements that "we" baptize. What we give is ours, and holy. John said, "Not I, but He."

Another Advent sermon found in the same source2 was preached by John Keble. Keble pictures the crowd standing around John when he announced that the Christ stands among them. Few in the crowd that day could discern God standing among them. Some looked to the religious leaders in search of the Christ. Others thought the Christ must be someone rich or great. The poor, humble, quiet carpenter's son from Nazareth was likely the last person standing in the crowd to be considered as the Christ. That continued throughout Jesus' life. He stood among folks who did not know him.

" He was `a God who hideth himself.'"

Now Jesus Christ stands among us, and we do not know him any better than those who stood in the crowd that day. Keble illustrates the ways his listeners may recognize him: in the faces of the worshipping congregation; during the Sacrament of Holy Communion; standing among the gatherings of family and friends; present in the places of the workaday world.

Karl Rahner invites his listeners to become, with John, a voice crying in the wilderness.3 Rahner's sermon is a skillful weaving of images of the wilderness.

John's cry was swallowed up by the wind in the wilderness, as ours will be. We are to cry to God continually, even though our cry seems to be swallowed by the silence, even when there seems to be no answer. Then we shall hear the answer, and it will not just be an echo. It will be the Word of God filling the emptiness. This passage during Advent presents a harsh Gospel, says Rahner. He encourages us to stay a while and hold out in the wilderness. Then we will be able to say, "You are here....You are the Christmas in the Advent of my existence."

An inspirational sermon by James Harnish is entitled Imagine That!4 It is an example of a sermon which is crafted very cleverly and which moves in a calculated manner from the beginning to the conclusion.

Harnish begins by quoting Einstein, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." He proceeds to a litany calling listeners to imagine people and events and promises of the Advent-Christmas season: everything from the Grinch to the One "who will baptize you, soak you, saturate your life and your world with the Holy Spirit of God."

Using Walter Brueggemann's concept of the prophetic imagination, Harnish asserts that our task during Advent is to allow the prophetic imagination of Isaiah and John to cut through the numbness of our lives.

We all experience spiritual numbness at times, says Harnish. Then one day we run into someone who is a John the Baptist. Someone who witnesses to the possibility of an new light shining in the darkness. Someone whose gift of imagination cuts through the numbness. Then we are able to envision new possibilities both for our lives and for the world.

Harnish illustrates from his personal life. He speaks about the Salvation Army bells which ring during the Christmas season. Harnish admits ignoring them and avoiding eye contact with the bell ringer. Then one day he heard the bells for the first time. That day the bells penetrated his numbness. He imagined the people who were not worrying about trees and gifts, but rather, were worried about what they would eat or where they would get a diaper for the baby. Harnish vowed that day never to pass a Salvation Army kettle without emptying his pocket change into it. A token gift, Harnish remarks, when measured by the size of his check to the church. Such a small gift helps little. It is what the gift symbolizes to Harnish that counts. When he empties his pockets into the kettle, he is allowing the sound of the bell to penetrate his spiritual numbness and to call forth a Christ like compassion.

Janice W. Hearn


1. George W. Forell, Ed. The Christian Year: Sermons of the Fathers, vol. 1 (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1964), pp. 51-55. 2. Ibid., pp.63-66. 3. Karl Rahner, "A Voice in the Wilderness." Biblical Homilies (New York: Herder and Herder, 1966), pp. 65-67. 4. James A. Harnish, "Imagine That!" Abingdon Preacher's Annual: 1993, John K. Bergland, ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), pp. 385-387.