Wednesday, June 27, 2012
A tale of two boys...
The Gospel begins with the story of two boys – their stories are similar and strikingly different. Their conceptions were both from God, one a child given to aged parents who had given up hope of a son and the other to a woman and her betrothed who neither expected nor sought the surprise of a son. They were born six months apart to mothers who were cousins. The mothers grew up in different surroundings but their lives forever intertwined – Mary from Galilee; Elizabeth from Judea. One a carpenter's wife and the other wife of a priest. John thought to follow his father’s footsteps in service to God and the other expected only to be a carpenter. John was a child of promise to whom many looked while Jesus was hidden in plain sight until the one from the wilderness would reveal Him as their lives intersected in the Jordan River. One brought the old voice of silent prophets back to Israel and the other fulfilled the prophetic Word with the dawn of hope never seen before.
Suddenly, quickly, and dramatically John appears. His father was mute by doubt that challenged God. From the barren home would come the first voice to speak “Thus saith the Lord” in more than 450 years. When it came time to name this child of promise, the voice returned to signal that this child was born for something. He shall be named John.
His voice shook the foundations of Israel. "Repent for the Kingdom of God is near!" No one could recall when such a voice last spoke and they knew not what to do except heed the voice crying in the wilderness – even while the religious leaders of the day were wary. But this prophet did not point to himself. He spoke of Him who was to come, the mighty One of whom this prophet was unworthy. "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” he said. From the jump in his mother’s womb to the waters of the Jordan to his dying breath, John’s life and purpose were clear only in relation to Jesus.
And from that moment on, "He must increase" while John must decrease. This was not the regret of one who coveted the attention but the faithful trust of the one content to prepare the way for the One to come. As quickly as John came, he was gone. His disciples were released to Jesus. His place fulfilled, he was content to fade away. But it would not be so. Herod refused to let John simply disappear. He spilt his blood and put his head on a platter – this meddlesome prophet had made enemies and Herod's wife worked the scheme until Herod could do nothing but acquiesce.
John's nativity or birth is the only one on the Church's calendar besides Jesus. Saints are remembered not on their birthdays but on their death days. Because John's birth was the beginning of the messianic day, John is remembered both in birth and in death. He is the prophet who is greatest in Israel, whose righteousness exceeds all other, and yet he is also a sinner in need of redemption by the One whose way He prepared. John did not fight this but knew from the womb that his life only made sense in relation to Jesus, that his purpose was clear only when Jesus was in focus.
Jesus comes just as suddenly, perhaps more so. Unlike John's prominence, Jesus was hidden in plain sight until John pointed Him out in the waters of the Jordan. He is there but hidden until the moment of revelation. When it comes to mark Jesus as the Savior who will not depart from His people – the path of the cross becomes also in focus. For this Jesus death is also the destiny of His life but the surprise of His resurrection and life gives to all who trust in Him redemption and hope.
Jesus claimed John's crowds as His own. "What do you see and hear?" Indeed. He claims the promise spoken by John but not as words alone. With deeds and works of power He is manifest among the people as the long-promised Son from God, the One who will faithfully shepherd God's people from the sins to forgiveness, from death to life. The crowds followed because in His voice they heard authority to do more than condemn their sins.
They heard in Him the voice of redemption, a love for sinners that would go to death to cleanse them and rise to keep them in righteousness forever. Jesus is the embodiment of John's promise and the incarnation of the hope a dying world has longed so to hear.
John was not without his temptation – "Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?" Yet his legacy is not one of doubt but of confidence, of faith, of trust in the Word of the Lord. His witness was not some ambiguous claim with bookends of doubt and fear on either side. His witness was clear: "I am not the light but the voice calling in the wilderness to prepare His way." He was born to point to the Lamb and he was content to point to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In life and in death his words still speak. Herod did not silence him. He speaks through us as we sing with our own voices Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world” as we come to meet the hidden Jesus revealed in bread and wine.
The Gospel begins with a tale of two boys – both children of promise – one to prepare and the other to complete the new day which God dawned upon our darkness. We are loved and forgiven, we are cleansed and made whole, we are reborn to life forever, and we are set apart for holy witness and service to this Gospel. Our lives are in focus only when Christ is in focus. Our lives make sense only in light of Jesus. To keep Jesus center is not to sacrifice ourselves but to find ourselves, to know the life that death cannot overcome, and to be set upon the way of righteousness, life, and joy. Like John, we live to point to Jesus as our Lamb who takes away the sins of the world and as the sacrificial Lamb who offered Himself for the sake of the whole world. The prophet’s voice speaks when we witness with John the greater One who is come to take away the sins of the world, to grant hope to the despairing, light to those in darkness, and life to those in the shadow of death.
Let us never waver in the voice that points to Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Let us speak boldly the news of the Kingdom of God which is come in Christ. Let us with John echo joyfully that in us and in all things, Christ must increase... for then, and only then, does who we are and why we are make any sense at all... Amen!