Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11; John 1: 6-8, 19-28
As much as Matthew, Mark, and Luke deal largely with the ministry of Jesus, John deals with much deeper issues beyond the doing of Jesus. As we make this tilt towards the final days of Advent, John begins to shift our focus from the end times to the indwelling of the Christ and the identity of Christ and His relation with the others he encounters, including whom we hear from today, John the Baptist. Both Jesus and John push back on a system, a patriarchal system that is still a part of who we are to this day, where identity it fully identified, at least as a man, in his role, function, what he does rather than a deeper understanding of who and whose he is.
But John’s not going to play that game. John has already moved beyond the normal roles in life and has found a deeper sense of who he is in Christ. He’s had to let go of what others think, their expectations and his own, the prescribed roles that would be expected and now lives from another place. Yet, he experiences this interrogation today by the scribes and pharisees who have defined roles and will do everything they can to try to box him in and pigeon hole John for who they want him to be rather than who he really is. They ask question of what he is and who he is…are the prophet, are you Elijah, are you the Christ, and again, rather than playing their game, John tries to change the rules and play by a different game.
As the Gospel of John goes on, it becomes somewhat laughable because Jesus’ approach is very much the same. He will experience the same push back and boxing in that John experiences in today’s gospel reading. It becomes laughable because it’s more evident as times goes on that they are often talking past one another and totally different planes. The Gospel writer may be a theologian of sorts, but he’s also a mystic in his own right. The shift takes place even in Jesus’ approach to ministry and becomes more evident in John’s Gospel. It appears to come from a different place. Rather than the doing defining Jesus, his very being, as the Christ, becomes the source of life. Think how often we try to define ourselves, others, and even God by who we want and expect them to be. We label ourselves by what we do and our jobs…teacher, doctor, priest, football player and so on, rather than see ourselves as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Christ and God. When we lose the role and functions, so many can no longer live because it’s all they have known. Both John the Baptist and Jesus point in another direction.
Now it takes great humility on the part of John the Baptist, and for us as well, to step aside and admit who we are and even who we aren’t. When he’s interrogated today, he is sure to note that he simply testifies to the light but is not the light. You see, the Baptist, like us, can never be the Light and we can never be Christ, the Baptist’s humility comes in the recognition and acceptance that he can simply testify to it. John reflects the light and he reflects the light. It’s a great deal of pressure and responsibility to put on ourselves when we think we can be something and someone that we are not. Yet, in the culture and world we live, many try. They try to live up to their own expectations and the expectations of others, boxing themselves in and simply settling for something much less than God ever intended for any of us.
Jesus too tries to expand that vision of who and whose we are. In Luke’s Gospel he quotes this passage we hear from Isaiah today, expanding the realms of God and salvation, the gift of the Christ goes beyond those who have deemed themselves worthy, such as the scribes and pharisees who often put themselves in the place of God, it now extends to the trenches and the fringes of society, the poor and downcast who have often been neglected. When our eyes begin to see differently and we no longer have to by into the boxed in world we create for ourselves by our roles and functions, we begin to see as God sees and we begin to reflect the light and reflect the Christ and see all as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Christ and God.
It’s easier said than done, but as we make this shift in the Advent season, where am I still boxing myself, others, and God in, making them in my image rather than accepting them for who and whose they are? The Christ-event which we prepare for and actively wait in anticipation, is the expansion of our world view and an expansion of our hearts and souls, making room and space for God and others who have been shunned by us for one reason or another. But we can take the pressure off knowing we aren’t the Light and we aren’t the Christ. All we can simply do is reflect and mirror the divine and to see it and accept it in the other. In these final days of this season, we pray that we may find and accept our true identity in Christ and allow God to incarnate in and through us as we reflect his love to a hurting world.