Advent 3B (12/14/2014)

Lessons:Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 Psalm 126 or St. Luke 1:46b-55 1st Thessalonians 5:16-24 St. John 1:6-8, 19-28

Prayer of the Day: Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the words of your prophets, that, anointed by your Spirit, we may testify to your light; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

St. John 1:6-8, 19-28, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

John: Not the Greatest…

Charles Kirkpatrick tells a story about a little boy who walked out into the backyard wearing his baseball cap and carrying a ball and bat. “I'm the greatest hitter in the world,” he said. Then he tossed the ball into the air, swung at it, and missed. “Strike One!” he yelled. He picked up the ball and said again, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” Again, he tossed the ball into the air, swung at it and missed. “Strike Two!” he cried. The boy looked at his bat and ball, straightened his cap and said again, “I'm the greatest hitter in the world!” A third time he tossed the ball up and swung at it. He missed again. “Strike Three!” The little boy picked up the ball, looked at it, and cried out in a loud voice, “I'm the greatest pitcher in the world!”

I wonder how many of us can identify with this little boy. I used to imagine holding down a spot on the professional golf tour. (A persistent slice that often left me a fairway or two to the right eventually cured me of that fantasy…) There have been days when I’ve pictured myself as a world class fly caster, or one of the best husbands/fathers ever, or a renowned preacher. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed fleeting moments like this too. It probably is true for many of us.

Not so much for St. John, the Baptizer. There were undoubtedly those who thought otherwise. John’s ministry of introspection, confession, forgiveness and new beginnings was profound for people. It left some of them believing that he was the greatest. Some Biblical scholars speculate that by the time the Gospels were written (most likely between a.d. 70 and a.d. 100), there still were bands of believers who thought of themselves as disciples of John. The people may have misunderstood, but John was clear. In this week’s lesson we read: “I am not the Messiah.” (v. 20) “I am not [Elijah].” (v. 21) I am not the prophet. (v. 21)

Who was John? “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” (v. 23) “The one who baptizes [only] with water.” (v. 26-27) The one who knew that his role was important — in some ways more important than any of the prophets who came before him — but secondary. Secondary to the One for whom God’s people had been waiting. Secondary to the One who would baptize, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Secondary to the One whose life and death and resurrection would become a source of new life for centuries to come.

St. John teaches us what it means to live with humility. By all accounts he was bold, aggressive, brash, insistent, compelling, determined… but he never lost sight of who he was. He never imagined himself to be more than God had called him to be. He never forgot the greatest meaning in his life was that he had been caught up into something far greater than himself — the story of the birth of the Messiah, the Son of God.

May we live with that same humility. May we never lose sight of who we are. And may we always remember that we too have been caught up into something far greater than ourselves: the love of God that has come to us through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who did the people imagine John to be?
  2. What aspects of his ministry must have inspired them to think in these ways?
  3. How did John’s humility — and self-awareness — make him even more compelling?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What role has God called my to play in this world?
  2. What might it mean for me to have the same strength and humility as John had?
  3. How might that give witness to Christ, who makes all things possible?