This sermon is based on John 1:6-8, 19-28. This is the account of John the Baptist, and explores his role with the 4th Gospel.
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
The idea of greatness is not one that we ever achieve on our own…Never once have I heard a story of any single individual accomplishing something truly great by themselves…it involves a sense of togetherness…even in those times when one individual emerges as the public face…there is typically someone in the background…behind the scenes…
Perhaps you’ve heard that old saying “behind every great man there is a woman.” (pause) While I like the sentiment behind that phrase…it is, admittedly, a little outdated…and so in order to bring things forward into the 21st century, I did a quick google search for some more appropriate versions.
Behind every great kid…is a great parent…who’s pretty sure they’re messing it up. (pause) Behind every great dog…is a cat telling him what to do. (pause) Behind every great student…is an exhausted teacher. (pause) And perhaps the best one I could find…and certainly the case in my house…behind every great man…is a woman rolling her eyes. (pause)
All kidding aside, each of these statements shares a common theme…that the prominent figure or visual or subject…whatever you want to say…is supported by another…they’re bolstered by another…they rely on another. And so perhaps this is fitting here in the season of Advent, as we move quickly towards Christmas…now just 10 days away…when the Savior of the world will take on flesh and dwell among us. (pause)
But before that can happen, we take this time every year to prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ…we prepare our hearts and minds…just as we hope that world itself is getting ready to once again welcome our Lord. And in the midst of this time of preparation…this short season that bolsters us up for the joyful highpoint of Christmas…it seems to serve a little bit like that quiet person standing in the background…out of the spotlight…just offering support.
And in today’s lesson, we hear about an individual that also fit that role…though perhaps this notion will strike some of you as a little odd (pause) If I was to take a pole of the most famous New Testament characters…the most well known…asking you to write down your top 10…I’m guessing that the vast majority of everyone’s lists would include none other than John the Baptist. (pause)
And rightly so…he’s one of the few characters that pops up in all 4 Gospels…his personality is quite distinct…with his long crazy hair and beard…camel skin clothes and his weird diet of locusts and honey…not to mention his famous line “YOU BROOD OF VIPERS!”
And John…well known as he might be to us some 2000 odd years after the fact…was even more prominent back in the day. He came on the scene before Jesus…he was active in and around the Jordan river…preaching and baptizing while Jesus was still hanging around Nazareth building tables with Joseph. We hear that large crowds of people from Jerusalem and all over Judea came out to see him…priests and teachers, soldiers and sinners…he attracted quite a crowd…we even here that he had his own batch of disciples that followed him. (pause)
But interestingly enough…here…in the 4th Gospel…none of that really seems to come up….Here in the 4th gospel…John is pretty toned down. (pause) There was a man…sent from God…He came as a witness to the light…the light which shined in the darkness…the word which became flesh…and moved into the neighborhood…John came as a witness, even before the light came into the world. (pause)
Now I don’t think any of us would argue that John’s purpose…his task…his job was not important…certainly it was…but interestingly enough…he himself downplayed everything…and simply went about…out there in the wilderness…sharing his testimony…sharing what he had seen for himself.
But in the midst of his testimony…in the midst of the ministry that he was performing…preparing the way of the Lord…the big wigs started getting a little uneasy. Here’s John…attracting a crowd…getting a lot of attention…and he’s changing things up from what we’re used to…we better get to the bottom of this…and the religious elite send people out to give him the 9th degree. (pause)
You’re baptizing…tell us honestly…Who are you? Are you the long awaited Messiah? I AM NOT. Well are you Elijah…or the great prophet? I AM NOT. (pause) I AM NOT.
Its interesting…throughout all of this testimony John never does say who he is…other than some off handed comment from Isaiah…John never gives his name or his credentials…the only thing he says…is what he isn’t…I AM NOT. (pause)
Now if you’ve ever heard me talk about the gospel of John, there’s two main themes that I tend to stick to…I’ll admit it, I’m a one trick pony in that regard…but the gospel of John tends to be about the light of God shining in the world…which incidentally we hear about here….or its about pointing out that Jesus…is God…and we hear that throughout the Gospel because Jesus continues to use the phrase. I AM. I AM the way the truth and the life…I AM the vine…I AM.
Ever heard that phrase before? Maybe when a random shepherd was hanging out talking to a burning bush? I AM…the name uttered by God to give to the people…claimed by Jesus repeatedly in this gospel in order to let everyone know just who he really was.
But let’s come back around to John again…Are you the Messiah? I AM NOT. (pause) I think its safe to say that John was pretty self-aware at this point. I’m not God…I’m not the great I AM…but there’s one among you…one that you do not know…and HE IS…and I am not worthy to untie his sandal.
John sets us quite the important example here…recognizing that he is not God…he is not in charge…that he is simply following the direction that the Lord has given him. (pause) Throughout the course of his ministry, John pointed towards another…towards Christ…his whole role was to testify about the light which came into the world…and we are called to do the same thing. To testify about what has been revealed to us…through our own experience.
Now you may be thinking that you lack the ability to do this…but John’s example defies that notion as well. In the beginning…John didn’t know who the Messiah was…all he knew is that eventually he would see the Holy Spirit descend and rest upon the Messiah….and low and behold…one day, it happened…and John realized in that moment that he was in the presence of the light…of the messiah…and with that John shared his testimony…he shared that which he had witnessed…that which he had experienced…in short…he shared his testimony of the relationship that he now had with the living Lord…and this is the very thing that we are called to do…to share that which we have experienced when we live our lives with Christ…and when we recognize that God, has chosen to live his life among us.
Now interestingly enough…this realization of just who the Messiah was happened for John in the context of a baptism…when the Holy Spirit rested upon the newly baptized…and we believe that in our own baptism…that same spirit comes upon us…and we share in the same baptism as our Lord…and in just a moment we’ll all witness this same thing together as Mieren Minshall comes to this font…when she too is washed in the water…and she too is named as a Beloved Child of God. (pause)
If you noticed…John never did give his name when his opponents were grilling him about things…Are you the Messiah? No, I am not. But he was claimed by God and he did have a name…so too does each one of us…Named and claimed by our Lord in the waters of our own baptism, marked with the cross of Christ and sealed in the love of God forever.
And so…if anyone ever happens to ask you if you’re God…you can let them know. I Am not…but I do hang out with him…now let’s talk about that…Amen