SUNDAY 13 DECEMBER, 2020
Reflection: "Nope, it's not me"
“No. No. No.”
So begins this phase of the ministry of John the Baptiser.
But that's not what we’ve come to expect from him.
Because as we heard last week, John comes across as being a bit loud, disruptive and socially inappropriate.
A wild man in the wilderness - in stark contrast to the more serene images we usually associate with Jesus.
Yet, in this passage from the Gospel according to John (same name, different person), John the Baptist (for clarity, let’s call him JtB from here on in this passage) sounds like anything BUT the hothead preacher.
Upon being asked by the religious leaders of his day to make himself known to them, he starts by telling them who he is NOT.
He’s not the Messiah.
He’s not Elijah.
He’s not the prophet.
Was there any doubt?
Would those sent to inquire of JtB have wondered if they were heading out to meet Elijah?
Or did JtB wonder if his call to proclaim the coming of the Lord was not as a forerunner, but as the main act?
Of course not!
He’s just the one called by God to go before - and point towards – Jesus, the Messiah.
Of course, he’s not a reincarnated Elijah, who, according to scriptures, didn’t actually die.
And of course, he’s not a prophet, whether that’s Moses, or any succeeding prophet.
He’s simply a man called John.
A messenger sent by God to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah.
John the gospel writer, gives us no indication as to whether, or not, the questioners of JtB are trying to trap him.
Rather, like the first people to hear this gospel, they also want to know more about this man.
JtB's responses to their questions actually give us an insight into him.
It’s an insight that could easily be missed if we only emphasize the fact that he’s a high-volume preacher - a locust and honey-eating street evangelist.
In this passage at the beginning of the Gospel according to John, we encounter a thoughtful man, without any over-sized sense of self, or puffed-up ego.
Over the millennia, the Church has spent much of its time reflecting on how Jesus was tempted.
We read accounts of his temptations in all 3 of the synoptic gospels.
However, in John's Gospel, we don’t have a similar story about the tempting of Jesus.
What we do have, though, is the tempting of JtB, a temptation that he resists admirably.
So, if you’re called to be the forerunner, the one who comes before, isn't that awfully close to being an understudy, one who could step in if the moment demands it?
JtB could be forgiven for thinking the people have waited and waited for the Messiah and have a hope that God will finally hear them.
So why not just speed things up a tad and do your best to embody the long-awaited Messiah-ship?
If JtB were to give in to temptation, he might even begin to act out the part, in the hope that he’ll smoke out the real Messiah.
Or maybe, just maybe, JtB has misunderstood his role?
Is it, maybe, all about him?
No, of course he knows that it isn’t.
It’s all about Jesus.
As long as there have been Christians gathering in community, practicing their faith through worship, study and gestures of reconciliation to each other, there have been leaders who have, sadly, disappointed their followers.
I’d like to suggest that we consider the possibility that many of the moral failings of these leaders have some root beginning in their failure to pay attention to the message of JtB. “I am not the Messiah.”
If we yield to temptation, it all too easily turns into “Well, I guess I might be the Messiah” and before we know it, we are becoming a Messiah.
From there, it’s easy to cross the ethical boundaries - believing that we’re more than we really are.
Because JtB begins with a tri-fold renouncing, no to being the Messiah, no to being Elijah and no to being the Prophet, he’s then able to say something just as bold: “I know who I am.”
For several years now, churches have rightly encouraged individuals to say “No” to the hyper-materialism that comes with the consumer rush to Christmas.
We live in an age which tempts us with marketing pitches, intended to make us believe that EVERYTHING is possible for us, that we can do ANYTHING we set our minds to.
With that approach, there’s not enough time in the day for all the things to which we could say “YES.”
I know that for me, I don't simply want to follow the Australian cricket team - I want to be their opening batsman, or the spin bowler who takes 12 wickets in a test and wins that match for the team.
But that’s not likely to happen.
It’s not that I’m setting my sights too low.
It’s just that I’m living in reality, recognizing that daydreaming can keep me from saying YES to my true call, my true vocation that I’m being called by God to do.
What John the gospeller gives us, in this story, is the most remarkable downgrading that any messenger from God has ever received!
What he effectively has JtB say is, “For goodness sake! What’s wrong with you people?
Stop getting hung up on the warm-up act and get ready for the Real Performance!”
JtB renounces the calls that aren’t his, in order then to tell the religious leaders what his call really is.
He’s called to be a voice,
to baptise with water,
to recognise his own unworthiness before the One who is to come.
Did the religious leaders expect to hear JtB admit that he was the Messiah?
Were they expecting to find a wild man doing his best Elijah impersonation?
Were they hoping to see the Prophet?
If so, they would have been disappointed.
In this exchange, JtB is already stepping back, so that the One to come (Jesus), could step forward.
He’s already moving the spotlight from himself to the Word that he proclaimed.
Regarding JtB’s baptism by water:
Yes, it’s important.
Yes, it’s of God.
It’s all preparation for the one who will baptise - not with water - but with the Holy Spirit!
And that’s how we’ll know him – it will be the one on whom the Spirit descends and remains.
That’s how we’ll know he’s more than a mere prophet - the Spirit will remain on him because it is the Spirit of God and he is the Son of God!
This story we read today is where the more contemplative side of JtB is helpful to us now.
Remember, he wasn’t always out there shouting “PREPARE!” and “REPENT!”
He wasn’t always making a scene.
In this part of the Advent story, he’s saying “No” to all the calls that aren’t his.
He’s praying over and over, in order to perform his true work on behalf of Jesus, God's coming new thing.
So, this is something like the opposite of a modern-day altar call that we sometimes see at evangelical rallies, or in certain churches.
In this case, it’s what we’re NOT called to be or do this year, that’s important for us to recognise.
We need to say “NO” in order to find with confidence the true “YES” that’s been placed in front of us by God.
I encourage you, in this time of Advent, to search yourselves and pray to God that you can be worthy of the calling that he’s prepared for you.
He’ll equip us for the tasks he calls us to perform, but it’s up to us to be ready to receive these gifts of grace and put them into action.
“May God’s loving providence reside in our hearts and Christ’s living word be upon our lips
as we rejoice in the song of the Spirit, this day and forever more.
12/12/2020 09:31:29 pm
Good strong ending - a real challenge!
14/12/2020 07:05:59 am
I was encouraged by your message, Rick.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.