Growing up the youngest of twelve children there were important decisions to be made for a young girl like me. Things like who washes or dries the dishes, which of us would clean the bathroom or vacuum the floors or which one of us would cook dinner. Most of our responsibilities were tied to inside the family home and NONE of them appealed to me. With seven brothers roaming around playing football, basketball, and baseball the options became much more appealing. Do I stay inside the house and do the expected work of the girls or do I take my energy outside and play ball. Really it wasn’t even a competition of choices. Let’s play ball! My brothers inspired my sense of competition and fair play. I learned how to throw, catch and hit any kind of ball and I did so with confidence and determination. My competitive spirit carried into my school life as well. In grade school, I was determined to run faster than any boy, throw the ball a country mile and hit that ball out of the park. When it came time for my classmates to choose teammates, I wanted to be chosen right along with the boys. I never wanted to be second best in sports.
“He (John) will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:14-17).
Did you read that? This young man would “go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah.” He was chosen to be first, ahead of his cousin, not only in years but also in spirit and power to proclaim the coming of the Lord. Check this out; John’s purpose actually began before he was born. The Bible tells us that after the angel’s visit with Mary, the first thing she did was go to visit her cousin Elizabeth. This is the cool part; the text says that as Mary approached her cousin the child in Elizabeth’s womb jumped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. The soon-to-be baby John had recognized the babe growing inside of her and jumped for joy. Then it says that the Holy Spirit filled her cousin Elizabeth and consequently John and so his purpose began... John, better known as John the Baptist, was the first to proclaim the coming of Jesus as God’s Son. Later when John baptized his cousin, Jesus, he watched as a Spirit like a dove settled on Jesus and heard God claim Jesus as the Son! That would have been something to see! John’s role had been fulfilled. To anyone who would listen, he was the first to proclaim the coming of the One who was greater than he. His words prepared the way for Jesus to enter into his ministry. However, his role as first proclaimer was not destined to remain the same because John knew he would soon become second best to his cousin. He explains it like this,
“He (Jesus) must become greater; I must become less.” The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.
John knew he had to step down and let God’s Son shine. He recognized the importance of the baby in the manger. His one focus was to tell the world about his cousin Jesus. He never got distracted from that message. This story reminded, me that in spite of the busyness of the season, I need to take time to refocus on the baby who was born in a barn surrounded by his parents, animals and shepherds. Jesus came into our world to join us where we are, experience everything we do and offer us a love that shines through the darkness. I wonder if too often we take for granted that each year Jesus will again come into our world by way of the manger? What happens to the baby as we walk away singing “Silent Night?” Do we carry that baby into our world or leave him lying in the manger until next season? Maybe we could follow John’s example and jump for joy when we sing, “away in a manger …” And once we walk away from the holiness of the night, we carry that joy within us throughout the year. And like John, proclaim that Jesus is God’s Son. The Advent season is a time to anticipate of the coming of Jesus, who was first described by John as the “The true light that gives light to all…” (John 1:9). This Christmas, take extra care when you look at the baby in the manger and see the promise of the light shining into a dark world. Let’s join cousin John and accept that we are second best to the babe in the manger.