December 11, 2011
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Throughout the New Testament, John the Baptist is always pointing to Jesus. It seems that John is intent to move the attention of others off of himself and onto Christ. Today’s gospel passage is a perfect example of this. As people approach John, he says, “I am not the prophet. I am not Elijah. I am not the Christ.” We hear him constantly speaking in this manner. Now, we can approach these disavowals of John as an interesting historical fact of the first century. But to do so would be to waste the gospel, because everything written in the gospel is written for our benefit. So all of these protestations of John are not written so that we can clarify John’s past relationship to Jesus, but so that we can clarify our present relationship to God.
A couple of years ago, I went to a workshop by the Franciscan preacher, Richard Rohr. During that workshop, someone stood up and asked him a question. He said, “Father Rohr, I am a devout Catholic and I hope someday with God’s grace that I will attain Heaven. But, it would really help me if I had some idea of what Heaven is like. I know that it is more than pearly gates and angels singing. So, what is there in our tradition that describes heaven? Can you describe Heaven for me?” Father Rohr responded, “That is a difficult question. There really is not much of anything in the tradition that describes heaven.” But then he stopped and said, “No, there is one thing. There is one thing that is very clear in our tradition about heaven. Heaven is not about you. In heaven, God’s power and glory are so clear that each of us, while remaining ourselves, are nevertheless taken up into God’s love.”
Now, Fr. Rohr’s answer is extremely important because heaven is a model for earth. Therefore, if it is true that our relationship to God in heaven is not about us, it is also true that our relationship to God on earth is not about us. When I say that it is not about us, I am not saying that we are inconsequential or worthless. God has given us real talents and abilities and expects us to use them. God has made us sons and daughters and given us great value. But when I say that our relationship to God is not about us, I am saying that God’s role and God’s action are primary. We play a supporting role. It is not about our plans. It is about God’s plan. It is not about our power. It is about God’s power. It is not about our glory. It is about God’s glory.
Since all of this is true, the most fundamental step we need to take as believers, is to get out of the way. You see, God is acting in our lives and in our world, but we cannot be a part of that action if we become stuck on ourselves. And believe me there are a lot of ways to become stuck on ourselves. We can become stuck because we think we are so important. We can become stuck because we believe that we are worthless. We can become stuck because we think we are so holy. We can become stuck because we believe we are such sinners. We can become stuck because everyone admires us. We can become stuck because everyone ignores us.
Through all of this, John the Baptist says, “It is not about you! Get out of the way!” How do you become a good parent? By being present, by being loving, by being wise. But also by believing that God loves your children even more than you do and that God is already leading them to growth. How do we become successful in business? We do our research and act with integrity. But also believe that whatever we do is somehow being used by God as a part of a greater plan. How do we decide which college we should attend? We visit the schools and talk to family and friends. But the we trust that God will lead us to the right place.
If God were simply a creation of our own minds, then we would be in charge. But God is real, powerful and active. That is why we need to keep reminding ourselves, “I am not the prophet. I am not Elijah. I am not the Christ. I am a voice crying out, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord’”.
Make ready, then. Set yourself aside, and let Christ come through you.