Pastor Kris Ross
Last week we heard John talking about the one who was coming after him, who was greater. This week it seems like John is defining himself by what he is not, rather than by what and who he is.
Not the Messiah, or Elijah or any other prophet. He defines himself by negatives statements, not positive ones. Even when he does give an identifier, he calls himself a nameless voice who cries in the wilderness.
John reminds me of that little invisible ghost running around Family Circus cartoons when something bad happens. Who did this? Not me. Who left the door open? Not me.
Not only does John say, “not me,” but he points to the one coming after him, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, whose sandals John isn’t worthy to touch.
And another negative, “Among you stands one whom you do not know.”
And that’s true. Until his resurrection even his disciples had no real idea who Jesus really was. And at the time of Jesus’ birth, what we now celebrate as the season of Christmas, no one knew who he was either. He was just another baby born to a poor couple on the road because of the census.
But we know he was NOT just that at all. He was the Son of the Living God. Born in human frame and flesh and bone, to come down among us bringing God’s light and love, grace and peace. Emmanuel, God with us.
As he grew he became many things, but he moved beyond our understanding. He was a teacher, but his teaching changed the way people related to God and to each other, because he was God come down to us.
He was a healer, but he did far more than mend wounds, and cure sickness. When people’s lives came in contact with Jesus, they were changed forever. They came in contact with the living breathing Emmanuel God with us. Their healing was far more than physical. Jesus mended communities by making it possible for the sick and injured to take their place once again in the world.
He was a rabbi, but he not only knew the Torah, and the Mishnah and the other sacred writings, but he explained them in such a way that people felt more connected to God and to one another through his teaching and parable. People understood how God was calling them to live in a real, authentic, healthy way together.
Jesus was not what anyone expected, but he was what everyone (including us sitting right here) needed. He was not the looked-for political Messiah to drive out Rome, but he was the one who called us to right relationships with God and with each other.
John used “not me” to define who he was. But there is another way to use “not me”.
When the PTA needs help with a project at school… “Not me, I can’t do that. I don’t know how.”
When a family member becomes ill… “Not me, I can’t help. It would hurt me to see them like that.”
When someone at church asks for our help… “I’m already too busy. Maybe another time.”
When a donation is needed… “Not me I can’t afford to. I might not have enough.”
When forgiveness is needed… “Not me, I can’t. You don’t understand what they did to me.”
“Not me” defines us sometimes as much as it defined John. Even though we know who we are as Christians, sometimes “not me” is our go-to response. Because we are human and frail and flawed.
Why not me? Each of us are called by our Creator to reach out and care for and serve one another, whether or not it is comfortable or easy, or pleasant or what we want to do.
Each of us is equipped with the Holy Spirit to go out and preach in word and deed.
Each of us has been given gifts to use in service to others for the sake of the world.
Each of us has been commanded to love one another as God has loved us.
So why not me? Why not now? Or every day?
Let’s turn this around now. John has defined himself. Let’s look at what defines a follower of Jesus. A Christian.
Christians are not afraid. When the angels came, they told the shepherds do not be afraid. Christians know that ultimately everything belongs to God and is in God’s hands and that therefore no matter where we are or what is happening we do not need to feel fear.
Christians are not without faith. We may not be able to explain what it is or give a quantifiable demonstration but we know faith. We trust in God’s promises because God is faithful.
Christians are not without hope. Our hope is in Jesus Christ, who came to lift up all people to himself. And that hope sustains us.
Christians are not without love. God’s love surrounds and fills us and God promises us that we will never lose that love. We have been graced with an extravagant abundance of God’s love in Emmanuel.
This little tiny child whom no one knew came with the power of Almighty God to serve, to love, to lift up, to save. He wasn’t known as a man of power, yet he had more power than Caesar himself.
He wasn’t known in the Temple as a scholar of Jewish Law, but he shed light on the true meaning of God’s Law which meant living in right relationship with all people, no matter who they are.
He wasn’t trained as healer, yet he not only healed bodies, but he healed souls, and relationships and communities by bringing wholeness to both bodies and spirits.
Jesus wasn’t a lot of things as we understand them. But he was God with us, Emmanuel, the Light coming into the world to shed light and love, to teach and speak peace love and hope.
And he calls us as his followers to do the same. Because we are not afraid and because we do have faith hope and love. The gifts of unknown child in a feeding trough to an unsuspecting unseeing world.
John 1: 6-8, 19-28