If you spend any amount of time looking at Christian souvenirs, DVDs and magazines, sooner or later you will see the words “who do you say I am?” emblazoned across them.
These words were spoken by Christ in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and Mark. Christ says “who do you say I am?” and Peter says “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” This is Peter’s confession of faith.
The reason the phrase “who do you say I am?” is so important is that the question goes straight to the heart of who Christians are. To be Christian, we have to confess our faith alongside Peter.
And that confession of faith must not be empty words, spoken without believing. Otherwise it’s just a vocabulary exercise. To confess like Peter, we have to sincerely believe that 2,000 years ago the Son of God was born as a fragile human baby.
The belief that God stepped directly into human history, in Jesus, should be the biggest wake up call we ever have. Imagine if the moon came down from the sky, tucked you into bed and read you a story. How would you feel? Shocked in a way that you’d never get over, I’d imagine.
And that’s the response we should have every time we hear what God did in baby Jesus. God came to live on Earth with us. That is not news we should ever get over or get used to.
There’s a reason why Muslims (fellow believers in the God of Abraham and people with whom we have a lot in common) find certain aspects of Christian belief so shocking. It’s because it is. God coming to live among us, is like the moon and the sun and all the stars coming down to live among us, but even more shocking than that.
This shock should stir us into action. It certainly stirred Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist. In today’s reading we find him out in the wilderness, preaching and preparing people for Jesus’s ministry. You have to wonder, how well did Jesus and John know each other as boys and younger men? What did John experience of the young Jesus that caused him to dedicate his life to him? Alongside Mary, John is one of the first believers.
John’s faith in Jesus put fire into his preaching. John said.
“I am the voice crying out in the wilderness. ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'”
Do you know how strong your cry has to be to be heard in the wilderness? The people came in their hundreds to listen to John and to be baptised by him; including Jesus himself.
What faith John had, what very strong faith!
Jesus asks “who do you say I am?” That question belongs to Jesus alone.
People ask John a question that will be asked of us too. It’s a question that will be asked of all Christians. It’s a question that has led many Christians to be martyred for their faith.
That question is, “who are you? What do you say about yourself?”
As Christians these two questions sit on either side of us like book ends. Your answers makes your faith what it is.
Who are YOU? And who do YOU say Jesus is?
When asked who he is, John gives a simple but deep answer. He says he is the voice preparing the way.
He doesn’t tell them his age, his marital status, his career achievements. He doesn’t tell them what he owns or what his dreams are. He places all his identity in God. He IS in the human world what he IS in his relationship to God.
And if we really do believe alongside Peter and alongside John, we shouldn’t be defining ourselves by worldly things either.
We are not our jobs, we are not the success of our children, we are not home owners or car owners. We are not even mothers or fathers or sons or daughters. We are not husbands or wives or spinsters. We are not Britons or immigrants. We simply ARE creatures living in relationship with God. And that should be all that we need to say about ourselves.
Christmas is very much about gifts these days. And the gift that God gives to you is the freedom to simply be a living creature in his Creation, always connected to Him by love.
You don’t need to worry about what anyone thinks of you. It is simply enough for God that you are you. You are enough.
Sermon for 3rd Sunday of Advent. Claire George