We close out the calendar year with John the Gospel Writer’s story of John the Baptizer’s story.
How does the story of John the Baptizer look in the season of Christmas, rather than the season of Advent when we often encounter him? Will you celebrate the Baptism of the Lord Sunday early with this text? Save it for a few weeks?
John first identifies himself as what he is not. He is not the Messiah, not Elijah, not a prophet. He positively identifies as a voice, which seems an apt description to someone pointing us to the Word we heard about earlier in the prologue. As I said on Christmas Eve, since we can’t speak God’s language, God chose to speak ours. And John is the voice, crying in the wilderness “make straight the way of the Lord”.
Jesus’ baptism takes place off screen in John’s gospel, as does the birth of Jesus. We don’t see the heavens parting, the Spirit descending like a dive bombing pigeon. John gives us a testimony, a voice, about Jesus, and it is up to us to decide if the testimony is believable. This theme continues through the rest of John’s gospel. “Come and see” will be next week’s story. By placing the reader on the sidelines, not in the middle of the action, gospel writer John seems to understand that since the people reading his story won’t get to see Jesus themselves, they will have to decide if the testimony about him is reliable.
John the Baptizer is the first voice, and the theme continues right up to when Thomas needs to see for himself to know about the resurrection. Jesus meets Thomas’ needs, letting him see the wounds, and then says, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ (John 20:29)
We are people who have not seen, and yet have come to believe. How will walking through John’s gospel help us in our understanding?
At a time when people might be preparing resolutions for the new year, what might John’s testimony about Jesus point us to?
We are introduced to John earlier in the chapter. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:6-9)
I resonate with the idea that we are to testify to the light. How does our work, our testimony, our ministry become a testimony to the light of Jesus?
Since we aren’t eyewitnesses to Jesus, the way we encounter him require other senses. Mary Oliver, in her excellent slim book of poems Felicity, writes:
I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
reasons and proofs.
The world I live in and believe in
is wider than that. And anyway,
what’s wrong with Maybe?
You wouldn’t believe what once or
twice I have seen. I’ll just
tell you this:
only if there are angels in your head will you
ever, possibly, see one.
New Year’s is also when some churches use Star Words for Epiphany (which is also not a natural fit in the Narrative Lectionary, in my opinion). The Star Word file I inherited is in the revgal facebook group’s “files” tabs if you want to join in. (Or search the group for “star words” and you should find lots of posts about it.)
How are you preaching John the Baptizer a week after Christmas? Please share your thoughts, questions, and ideas here. Plans for Time with Children? Ideas to incorporate New Year’s into worship?
Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church and lives with her husband and sons in Boise, Idaho. She is a graduate of Trinity University and Columbia Theological Seminary. She serves on the Clergy Advocacy Board of Planned Parenthood and the Mission Agency Board of the Presbyterian Church USA. Marci blogs at Glass Overflowing and is among the contributors to the RevGals book,There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).
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