John the Baptizer was a remarkable man; odd, eccentric,
He spent 30 years preparing for a ministry that lasted nine months. It took that long to get ready. A great undertaking takes a long and careful preparation. Apparently, he had learned to listen in the desert and he knew who he and knowing who he was enabled him to know who he was not. And all of us who have any maturity at know who difficult it is to know where we end and other people begin.
John came up out of the wilderness preaching repentance of sins and proclaiming the coming of Messiah, “the anointed one”. As an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual repentance, John baptized people in the Jordan River. The Jordan was a mystical river in Jewish culture and religion. It was the boundary between wilderness and the land of promise. It was the boundary between earth and heaven. It was a boundary between sickness and healing. Mobs of people flocked to John to be baptized. The movement really took off!
One day Jesus, his cousin, came to him, and was baptized, by him, in the Jordan. Not long afterward, John saw Jesus coming and said, ”Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the World.” He is the one who is to come. He said this to some of his disciples.
Some of them, Peter and Andrew, his brother, and Philip went to see Jesus and stayed with him. Soon, they also began to baptize, and more people went to them than went to John. Someone said, “You know the one you pointed out the other day. Well, he is baptizing now and everyone is going to him!!!” This was the ultimate test. What is more important?
The kingdom being preached OR John the Baptizer preaching the Kingdom. Which is more important the message or the messenger?
Someone has said, “If you don’t care who gets the credit, almost anything can be accomplished!” There are those that being in control is more important than winning. And who among us could blame John. He preaches and now someone has stolen his message and his method. But this is not what happened. Albert Schweitzer once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others – it is the only thing.”
Teddy Roosevelt’s eldest son once said of his father, “He loved to be the center of attention. He wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.” Wanting to be the center of everything is not limited to the twenty-sixth President of the United States. Egocentricity is evidence of our alienation from God. We deeply desire to be in control and to be the focus of attention. We become anxious, ‘jealous of our rights and privileges, full of ourselves. We are determined to be perfect and to use whatever substance or strategy needed to avoid the pain of this control disease we call sin.
The Remedy for “being full of ourselves” come in three flavors.
- Coming to see a power greater than ourselves in the world.
- Loving someone other than ourselves.
Out in the desert John the Baptizer very likely encountered all three remedies. We hear this in his response to those who tell him that someone is trying to take his place. John said, “No one has anything unless God give it. You know I said that I am not the Messiah. I’m the best man at the wedding. I’m the one who introduced the groom and the bride. And like a best man who is only there because of the groom. I rejoice in my friend’s joy. He must increase while I must decrease!”
John uses the word “Friend” to describe his relationship with Jesus, the Messiah. What does that mean? Laurence Thomas writes in an essay, “Friendship and other loves”, that there are three features of companion relationships that are present in most relationships
CHOICE: You can’t choose your family or your boss, but you can choose your friends. Being a friend requires each person to choose to be a friend.
CONTROL: Neither party to the relationship is under the authority of the other. They may not be equal to each other and they have influence on each other but they do not control each other. If they do it is not friendship.
TRUST: There is an enormous bond of mutual trust between such friends. This is a bond cemented by equal self-disclosure and, for that very reason, is a sign of the very special regard that each has for the other.
John uses the word friend. He goes further and uses the expression: “Friend of the Bridegroom” or as we would call it, the best man. The function of the best man at the wedding is to tend to the interests of the groom. His greatest delight is in the joy of his friend. He is at the wedding because of he chose to be a friend. He is there as a gift. The point here of course is that the best man decreases/he doesn’t have to be the center of attention. This happens as a token of his friendship and love for the groom.
Sergius Bulgakov in an essay, “The Friend of the Bridegroom” writes, “St John the Baptist was the first human being, after the Fall, who repented of Adam’s sin and was ready for salvation, ripe for the Kingdom of God. He transferred his centre from himself to God; he alienated himself from his own self and thereby became fit to be the friend of the Bridegroom. And his soul entered into the joy of this friendship, as testified by the fiery words of the fourth Gospel: ‘The friend of the bridegroom which standeth and heareth him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled’ (John 3.29)”
Advent is the time to wait, to watch, to ponder, to do less, John the Baptizer calls us by example. The way to increase is by decreasing: less is more. John the Baptizer calls us to transfer our center from ourselves to God. There is a radical truth. If we want to be made whole, we have to be empty first! That is a message of hope, not a message of work harder, be good, be nice. The message of hope is: let go, be empty, do less, be real: increase by decreasing. This is a process. So let us begin again to make a place for the coming Messiah. As we decrease God promises us that new life will increase. That is good news. Amen.