Cathedral News, December 17, 2017


John the Baptist comes to us in this reading to remind us of who he is. To accomplish that, he reminds us of who he is not. This is not a big deal a couple thousand years after his death, but at the time of Jesus John the Baptist had amassed quite the following. Despite his off-putting appearance and fire-and-brimstone message, John had managed to earn the respect even of some of the Pharisees in Jerusalem.

In today’s Gospel reading we get a pretty accurate picture of who John is in relation to Jesus. By saying “I am not the Messiah” John was identifying himself with prophets of old. These prophets were not Gods. They were not angels in the mystical sense. Rather, they pointed the way to God. In the same way, John is pointing the way to the Messiah. His simple humility serves to pave the way to others’ understanding.

Now is a time in the cycle of our yearly lives when we are receiving two conflicting messages. On the one hand, Christmas is a time of busy-making. For some, it is a time of busy-making to extremes not seen for the rest of the year. It is a time when we try to be all things to all people. We try to be good grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, spouses, children, neighbors, and grandchildren. We try to be good workers.

On the other hand, Advent is a time of simplification. It is a time when we move the things that are obstructing our view of what really matters. This is similar to how I explain confession to those that have difficulty with the concept. Confession is really about letting go of things we have a habit of holding on to. Advent is four weeks of confession in this sense, not mourning the fact that we are terrible people; but taking inventory of where our lives have become too cluttered with things we hold on to. And we hold on to a great deal sometimes without realizing it. We hold on to grudges, yes. But we also have a way of holding onto expectations of ourselves that are unrealistic.

It is these things that I ask you to lift up in prayer this week. Use the words of the Baptist to guide you into those places where your expectations of yourself have become unrealistic. Allow yourself to say “I am not the Messiah”.

Read the rest of the announcements.