John 1:6-8, 19-28
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.” 22 Then 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, 27 the 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.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Are you one of those people that, when you see something broken, you just want it fixed? That’s me. I’m really bothered by things that don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Not just mechanical, tangible things, but life things. I want to fix people, I want to fix relationships, I want to fix the world. I want things in the world to work the way they are supposed to—the way God intends, the way God envisions. I’m frustrated when they don’t:
I’m frustrated when families have to struggle just to put food on the table for their children (and the rich tell them it’s their own fault because they’re spending money on the wrong things).
I’m frustrated when those who live in privilege—whether it’s because they’re white, male, straight, wealthy, or connected—take that privilege for granted without using it to raise up those in the low places.
God doesn’t intend God’s own creation to function so selfishly, benefiting some at the expense of those who are most vulnerable. Scripture is clear about painting a picture of God’s reign, of God’s vision, of how God intends the world to work. And the way the world is, isn’t the way God wants it.
So, in my fixation on fixing things, I want to fix what God seems to be ignoring.
True confession? I find myself trying to do God’s job when God doesn’t seem to be doing it. I long for the ability to do what God should be doing!
But I’m not very good at it. I don’t have that ability—no matter how deeply I long for it.
So in this Advent season, I need to hear the voice of John the Baptist. John also longs for the ability to change things according to God’s vision. But John also understands the abilities with which he is gifted.
When asked by the priests and the Levites, John starts out by saying who he is not: not the Messiah, not Elijah, not one of the prophets. John knows he isn’t God, and he doesn’t try to be.
Yet this isn’t self-deprecating in any way, because when asked again, he quotes this passage from Isaiah in reference to himself. He says he is “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” John knows his identity, his role is part of God’s story. He sees himself within the biblical narrative. He knows who he is, and who he isn’t.
Then, understanding who he is within God’s story, he is able to identify what he actually is called to do: “I baptize with water, but one is coming whose sandals I’m not worthy to untie.” John knows who he is and that living within his God-given identity, his actions will point to Christ.
John trusts God to be God. Which frees him up to be who he was created to be. And calls others to be who they were created to be. John isn’t foolish enough to think he has to do everything.
John the Baptist comes with a message for all of us who think nothing will get done if we don’t do it. John points out to us that the abilities we long for may or may not actually be the abilities God has given us. John lives out a reality within God’s vision that each one of us has a role, each one of us is part of God’s biblical story, each one of us has an identity in God’s reign.
What John reveals to us is that:
- We’re not God, nor are we Jesus. There are things that belong to God that each of us can’t/shouldn’t be doing. None of us are “all that.”
- But we’re not off the hook, either. Who we are, however, is part of God’s story. Each one’s role in God’s biblical narrative is different. That is worth discovering. We need to discover who we are in Christ, claim that, and own it. It’s an ongoing process; it keeps unfolding.
- With what we know right now about who each one of us is, and how we know at this point about how each one of us fits into God’s story for the world, when we live out of that identity, Christ is revealed.
So take a minute and ponder that.
You have a particular role in God’s story—God’s vision— of the world.
You have been created with wonderful and unique gifts that are part of that identity.
When you live out of who you actually are, using those gifts, you do point to Christ.
So, how do we get at that?
Think of a time when God felt particularly close to you (or you felt particularly close to God). Would you be able to tell that story? What did God do? Is there a story or a character in the Bible that’s similar? What might that say about what God is doing in you now? Is anyone willing to tell that story about themselves now? . . .
Think of a time when God seemed particularly active in this congregation. We aren’t everything to everyone, but we are something to someone. How were people’s gifts used at that time? What was God doing? What might that say about what God is calling us into now? Is anyone willing to tell that story about us now? . . .
Now think of what God may be trying to do in the world around you now. . . How might God be envisioning your gifts at work in that? Is anyone willing to share their thoughts on that now?. . .
This Advent, we’re called to consider how God is present in the world, and where God is leading the world. We’re called to consider who we are not; but also to consider who we are. We are part of God’s story for the world.