The Holy Gospel: December 11, 2011 (Year B)

Read:  John 1:6-8; 19-28

Meditation:  The Paradox of True Greatness

For the most part, John the Baptist was seen by the general public as a true prophet—the first in Israel for about 400 years.  St. John Chrysostom pointed out in his homily on the Gospel of John that the Jews were reluctant to see Jesus—the young, upstart rabbi—as being in any way superior to John.

So, it fell to John to make it clear that he was not the Messiah (1:20).  He went on to point out a number of other ways that he was not the Christ, but only a “voice” to speak up in pointing men and women to Him.

In doing this, John bears witness to the paradox of true greatness.  It comes as we deny any sort of “ultimacy” to ourselves.  Our greatness is in proportion to our realization that we are not “great.”

At first, this may seem like something only desert prophets would have to contend with, but in fact, it is something we all have to confront.  Apparently,  God thinks we need to do it at least once a year.  So every Advent, we pass through the life and witness of John the Baptist.

As we do, we are enabled by grace to be truly great by not feeding on the husks of false greatness that people can offer us through their accolades and compliments:  “You are the best friend anyone could ever have!”—–“I could not have asked for a better doctor to get me through this!”—–“Every time you sing, I get goose bumps all over me!”—–“It was your wisdom that cleared away my confusion and set me on the right path!”—–“You saved my life!”  Etc. Etc.

In those moments, which people give us on the basis of genuine gratitude, the only thing that can keep our egos from swelling up to “god-size” (notice the little “g”) is the ability to say what John said more than once in today’s text: “I am not” the One.

And so we learn from this week’s lesson that John the Baptist “was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (1:8-9).

Have a truly great Christmas!

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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