John the Baptist

Today there is a funny feeling in the church everywhere. The crib is back in storage, the Wise Men have returned to the East, the shepherds to their flocks, the angels have stopped singing. Instead of a gospel about a Newborn Baby named Jesus, we hear about a gaunt ascetic called John.

We are now in what the church ironically calls ordinary time, back to the old routine, but it is not. Christmas was not an end, only a beginning. Christmas was a high point, but not the highest. Christmas changed our world, but only if you let it be changed.

You see, no Christian can live on Christmas alone. Jesus is no longer an infant. He did not stay in Bethlehem; make the crib His condo for life. He went to live in a place that we would never think to look for Him. Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

We know little about His early life, save that He got lost and grew in age and wisdom.  His public life was very short and He spent most of it with those the self-righteous despised – those they called sinners. He preached a twin message everyone could understand. Love God above all else. Love your sisters, brothers, and yourself.

He put compassion above tradition, love above the law and people above things. And this life was a journey, a journey to Jerusalem. Bethlehem was but a beginning.  Bethlehem was a prelude to Jerusalem. The crib, promise of a cross. But, even the cross was not an end. If Jesus was born to die, He died to rise again.

Now let us turn from Jesus to John. He is not the most attractive character in the gospels- clad in camel hair, eating locusts, shouting “repent!” Jesus says, “I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, greater than John the Baptist has never been seen.”

Forget the wilderness wardrobe, the desert diet. The Baptist was great in God’s eyes because he had an uncommon commission. His whole life had a single focus. John pointed to Jesus. Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He never pointed to Himself.

“I am not the Christ”, he told the priest and Levites. “Among you stands one whom you do not know. The strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. He must increase, but I must decrease.” Now turn from John to you and I because our Christian calling demands very simply we point to Christ.

Whatever we do in life because of our baptism, we have to point to Christ and you point to Christ in the measure that you are Christ-like. This is not a pious pap. This is what Bethlehem was all about. God became like us so that we could become like Him…that we may become Christ-like. The critical question we all ask ourselves is:  Where does Christ, our Lord, rank on our admiration list, our imitation list? Is our model on what it means to be human, to be alive, is it around Him that your life revolves? How does Christ stand over against all those people, places or things that vie for our affection, our time?

At bottom, it means that whoever you are, whatever you do, the root principle that motivates you from morning to night is the principle that powered Jesus. I seek not My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

In point of fact, you profess that principle day after day and you will do it again soon when you pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” In other words, whatever you want Lord. And that can be a troublesome prayer because at times you do not know what God’s will is or you may know well what God wants, but your whole being rebels against it.

Do not feel guilty. Christ, Himself, experienced it in Gethsemane. His prayer reads so poetically, “Father, if You will remove this cup from Me, but not My will but Yours be done.” Take that prayer out of the book and back to the garden and we see a Man sweating blood. He knew the Father’s will. But, still His whole Body and Spirit cries out in protest…do not let Me die.

Christian life after Christmas, like John, you point to Christ. Not with a wave of the hand, not with pious prattle…love and peace. Not by wearing bell, book and candle.  You point to Christ by what you do and who you are, the way you treat others.

Whatever you do, you do it in a Christ-like fashion so the Father can say of you- “This is my beloved son/daughter with whom I am well pleased.” And wherever you are, you never cease searching for what our Lord would have you do. Today, tomorrow, for life.  If you had to choose a motto for life to sum up you living, what would it be? Would you dare choose- He must increase, I must decrease?

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