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3 Advent Year B                                                                               12/17/2023

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Canticle 15; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Rev. Mark A. Lafler



Our reading today focuses once again on the person of John the Baptist.

One of the key biblical figures in the season of Advent.

Last week we heard from him from the Gospel of Mark…

Today from John’s Gospel.

The first chapter.

As much of John’s Gospel is, our text is well known to most Christians.

The first chapter will be repeated a few times in Advent and also during the Christmas season.

It is of course theologically rich and full of the mission of God.


In our reading, we find that John was beginning to get a bit of attention in the first century Jewish world…

So, the Jewish leaders sent some priest and Levites to find out who this John was.

They asked John:

Who are you?

He said, “I am not the Messiah.”

And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”


“Are you the prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

Then they said to him, “Who are you?

Let us have an answer for those who sent us.

What do you say about yourself?”

He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”

They 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.”


It’s a great narrative repeated in the different Gospel accounts.

The Jewish leadership is trying to figure out who this John guy is.

And John is mostly deflecting the questions pointing toward the reason behind his mission.


In the narrative, a certain question is asked two times…

And that’s this:

Who are you?



It is an important question for us today too.

So, I ask you:

Who are you?


Often in our culture we suggest who we are by what we do or what we did…

Often, when strangers meet, the question is asked:

What do you do for a living?

It is a way to understand who someone is.


In the same manner it is often asked where someone is from.

That also begins to build a picture of who someone is.


But as we are all aware…

What we do…

And where we are from…

May or may not have much bearing on who we are.


I am a priest in The Episcopal Church.

I am from Sarasota, Florida.

And although this is well and good, and I am thankful for these things.

I am certainly much more than those two things.

In fact, I would say they don’t really tell you very much about who I am.

I can even add more…

I love to read,

I love to drink tea…

I enjoy walks with my wife, Tera…

I enjoy good conversations…

I am a fan of the New York Mets and the Dallas Cowboys…

But even with that information…

One can still ask…

Who are you?


My identity is more than all of these things.


And sometimes we contemplate who we are…

Trying to look deep within ourselves…

And we just find ourselves staring at a big dark hole…


I really don’t know who I am.


Which is why we often turn to our hobbies,

the things we do,

and where we live,

to describe who we are.


But we know we are more than that.


But do we really know who we are?


Because so many struggle with this question…

Our culture tries to fill in the answers…

Our world will try to define who we are by our political allegiances or parties…

Or by our race or ethnicity.

Or by our nationality.

Or by our sexuality.

Or by our family background.

Or by our education.


Our society wants to tell us who we are.

Oh… if society can get us to express who we are through their marketing… than they can get to our wallet.

Oh… if society can shape how we answer the question of who we are… than they can get us to vote a certain way and put certain people in power.


Our culture says be your own person…

It celebrates individuality.

It celebrates uniqueness…

but our society rarely celebrates the idea of fitting in…

or just being “normal”


This week I did a little experiment on an internet search engine…

called Google… (you may have heard of it).

I looked up in images… pictures of normal.

Out of the top 24 images – 10 were negative toward the idea of normal.

Then I looked up images of unique.

Out of the top 24 images – all were positive.


Again… as a society we celebrate individuality…

We say follow your heart.

Be your own person.

Be the real you.


And the truth of the matter is…

Most of us really don’t know who we are.

We are supposed to follow our heart and we don’t even know what our heart is really saying…


And there is that age old question found in our Gospel reading today…

Who are you?

Well, there is another question I want to ask…

Who does Jesus say you are?

As a Christian…

As a child of God…

Saved by the grace of God…

Who does Jesus say you are?


Recently, Deacon Kim and I were teaching a class together for those aspiring to be deacons in our diocese.

And Deacon Kim shared a list of scripture verses of what the Bible says about who we are.

I won’t read all of them here…

But I want to share a few of them.


In Genesis 1.26 I am made in God’s image.

In Daniel 10.19 it says I am greatly loved.

In Psalm 116.15 it says I am precious in the sight of the Lord.

In Matthew 10.31 I am a value to God.

In 1 Corinthians 6.19 I am not my own.

In 1 Corinthians 7.23 I am bought with a price.

In Colossians 1.14 it says I am forgiven.

In Romans 8.1 I am free from condemnation.

In Revelation 12.11 I am not a victim, but an overcomer.

Our world says we can find our identity of who we are in all sorts of things…

Or from looking deep inside ourselves…


But our true identity is only found in Jesus Christ.

When we are reconciled with God through the grace of Jesus Christ…

Through the work of Jesus…

In his life, death, and resurrection…

We find our identity in God…

The triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Who are you?

I am in Christ.

Who are you?

I am child of God.

Who are you?

I am follower of Jesus Christ, my Lord and my Savior.

My life is about him…

My life is to lead people to Jesus.

My life is found in who Jesus is.


Who are you?

I am who Jesus’ says I am.

And you see this identity with John the Baptist.

Who is John the Baptist?

He says: I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,

‘Make straight the way of the Lord

He was pointing to Jesus.


Why did John do what he did?

He says: 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.

He was pointing to Jesus.


You see it with the Prophet Isaiah from our first reading today.

Who are you?

Isaiah said:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

and the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn;

to provide for those who mourn in Zion—

to give them a garland instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.


You see it with Mary the mother of our Lord…

We read her song today…

In the Canticle…

The Magnificat.

Who are you, Mary?  And she answers:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:

the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.


Our readings express that our personhood, our identity…

Who we are…

Is found in God.

So, as we go through this world…

Being pulled in this direction and that direction…

People over here saying read this…

People over there saying look at this…

This group saying you are one of us…

Another group saying turn from them and be with us…

As the philosophy of our age says, find truth within yourself.


As a child of God…

Know that your true self is only found in the giving of yourself to God.

Through Jesus Christ we find our real person.

And only in Christ Jesus can we answer the question.

Who are you?

I am the Lord’s and that is all I need.


In this season of Advent our Lord says to us:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,

and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”   (Matthew 11.28-30)