A Cycle – 3rd Sunday in Advent 22
Among those born of women there is none greater than John the Baptist. Think about that for a minute, Jesus is saying there was none greater was ever born. What is it about John the Baptist that he is honored by those words of Christ? What is the measure of greatness by Jesus. For us greatness implies great accomplishments, measurable accomplishments great enough to be recognized. Hall of Famers and Metal of Honor recipients.
If you think about it there are many great figures in the scriptures, all chosen by God and whose accomplishments seem to be greater than John, the Baptist. Abraham is called the “father of faith” by Paul because of his complete trust in the covenant, God made with Abraham. What about Moses, who is present when Jesus was transfigured and who reluctantly responded to God’s call to set his people free. But when he did respond he tapped into the power of God and worked mighty miracles and God makes a covenant with him on Mt. Sinai.
What about David, whom God called “a man after my own heart.” What about Elijah, who also appears with Jesus at the transfiguration. The great prophet who multiplied the flour and oil of the widow of Zarephath, raised her son from death, challenged the 450 prophets of Baal and called down the power of God to embarrass them. Elijah, who parted the water of the river Jordan and is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind of fire. Elisha who received a double portion of the Spirit that was upon Elijah, and who also parted the river Jordan was not called the greatest.
Oh, we could go on about other figures in the scriptures but if you pay attention to the scriptures, you will discover something remarkable, God does not measure greatness by accomplishments. Greatness is not defined by what we do but by who we are, who we were created to be. Jesus Christ in this passage of scripture is telling us “…the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John.” Jesus is talking about us, you and me, weak sinners who strive for holiness but somehow feel we fall short, we feel like we do not measure up to God’s standards.
We need to understand our greatness is affirmed by the fact Jesus was willing to die for us so that we would be brought into the kingdom of God on earth. We easily acknowledge Jesus came to die for our sins, but we fail to grasp the fact he came to be more than our savior. He came to bring us into the kingdom of God.
We do not have to do anything to be great in God’s kingdom other than be who God created us to be. I don’t know about you, but I often feel like John when he says he was not fit to carry the sandals of the one who is to come. Why is it we feel unworthy of being in the presence of God? Why do we feel like we must do things to be pleasing to God? Why do we ignore all the stories in the scriptures which show us God desires to remove this burden of guilt from us so we can appropriate the grace offered us by his death and resurrection. The stories of the prodigal son and the woman at the well show us how God wants to remove those feelings from us.
It is too easy for us to say John was blessed from his conception and destined to be great in the eyes of the Lord. That he was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb and he would turn many back to the Lord because that is exactly what the scriptures say about him in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel. It is too easy to say we were not gifted and called as John was but that would be ignoring what God says about you. The scriptures tell us God knew us as we were being formed in our mother’s womb. That we are fearfully and wonderfully made and in his book is written every one of our days and the good works prepared for us in advance. Paul echoes this when he says, “…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works prepare in advance so that we might live in them” (Eph.2:10).
John in his ministry called on people to make a visible and physical declaration of their desire to rid themselves of sin, to repent. It is that same act of responding to the invitation to repent that will stir something within each of us. But we need to understand repentance is not beating our breast and declaring ourselves sinners. Repentance demands we stop hiding from God and stand before hm knowing he will embrace us. We seem to have an inbuilt reaction within us to our sins, a reaction which we inherited from Adam and Eve – we cover our sin, and we hide from God.
We cover our sin, not with fig leaves, but we cover this feeling of unworthiness with visible signs or acts of piety. We avoid going to God to seek his embrace until we feel we have done something to earn it. When we confess our sin, we use words nicer than the sin. We say we were immoral instead of saying we have committed adultery, or we fornicated. We slander but we say we gossip. We need to do exactly what the woman caught in adultery did and that is to stand in front of Jesus with nothing hidden but all revealed knowing he will not condemn us. We need to be like the prodigal son, return with the filth of our sins covering us and allow God to embrace us. No hiding, just us desiring to be freed from guilt, from shame and from our failure to allow the Spirit to guide us to holiness.
John challenged the people to stop hiding behind sacrifices and obligations and allow the cleansing of water to set them free. Jesus offers the same cleansing by inviting us to open ourselves to receive the grace of forgiveness. Jesus shows us how personal his forgiveness is when he answers John’s question “are you the one.” Jesus responds saying “the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised.” Jesus touched individuals, went to individuals and he is telling us he wants us to respond to his invitation to allow him to show us how great we are in the kingdom of God. He says open the door to your heart and allow me to come in and show you who you are in the Kingdom of God.