I certainly appreciate the various brief but always impactful and typically dramatic appearances of John the Baptist in the Gospel narrative. Something important always seems to be happening whenever he is around. But there was a time in my life when I would never had said that I found him to be particularly inspiring.
For example, in today’s Gospel, John is announcing the coming of Christ the Savior. We have the odd description of John wearing camel’s hair clothing and eating locusts and honey. We also have his fire and brimstone admonition of the Pharisees and Sadducees who he referred to as a “brood of vipers”. Brood of vipers: that’s harsh. Last week’s Gospel was about being ready. This week, John seems to be continuing the exact same message. This is all well and good, sure… but personally, I just have not found it all that… inspiring.
But then maybe a decade ago, I was buying a plain nylon canvas cover for my bible and saw one that simply said John 3:30 on it. I was in a religious store where there were about a thousand bibles around so I grabbed one and looked that verse up. The line was simple: “He must increase; I must decrease.” It was a line stated by John, the one called the Baptist.
That was curious to me. I had heard the line before but honestly never spent a great deal of time reflecting upon it. But having purchased that bible cover, I now am reminded of it all the time.
John, though seemingly a strange guy living out in the outskirts, was clearly doing something right. He was very popular. The Gospel today states that the whole region around the Jordan were going out to be baptized by him. Throngs of people leaving their homes to head out into the desert to encounter this man… to be inspired by his words… and to be baptized.
But when questioned, he stated that the one coming after is the greater and that he himself was not worthy to even carry his sandals, a lowly task indeed. In the third chapter of John’s Gospel, we see that Jesus and his followers were baptizing and elsewhere John and his followers were baptizing, and some were even wondering whether John himself was the messiah. This resulted in John’s comment that Jesus must increase and that he himself must decrease. It was time for Jesus to take center stage and for John to exit.
This is worth thinking about as we prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. We hear an instruction to be prepared but it may not necessarily be completely clear exactly how it is that we are to be prepared.
John tells us.
When I look at my bible cover, when I see the citation of John 3:30, it places me in a proper and beautiful frame of mind to encounter what is inside the cover. Whoever thought to design a bible case with that verse on it was genius.
Preparing for the coming of Christ requires the creation of some space for him in our lives. That space should be filled with contemplation, study, prayer, and silence. For Jesus and his message of consolation, love, forgiveness, redemption and hope to take root, it has to find a place within us. Yet how many of us actively open up such a space?
I believe I am a better follower of Christ, a better disciple, a better deacon, a better father and husband and a better person when I decrease the me in me. And in its place, I let Jesus in.
Advent is a good time to think about this.
And I’m grateful for John the Baptist’s inspiration.