We live in a country where individualism is prized. The more unique you are, or the more willing you are to make your own way in the world, the better you’ll do. That’s good for a lot of things, but it’s not very good for Christians in our walk of faith. Our faith is at its strongest when we partake of communion with Christ and His Church. But it’s all too tempting to believe that we can survive the temptations of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh by our own strength.
John the Baptist knows a thing or two about the temptations we feel: the temptation of pride; the temptation to believe that isolation is good. Didn’t he survive very well on his own in the wilderness? He made his own clothing of skins and lived on a diet of locusts and honey. He didn’t need disciples; they sought him out. And then there were the other people who sought him out. The Jews sent Levites to John, and they treated him like he was someone special. They played to his pride with the questions they asked. They thought he was the Christ or the resurrected Elijah or the great Prophet. That kind of attention would go a long way in polite society.
But John does not want to take the focus off Christ. He doesn’t want people talking about John or his preaching or his baptism. He doesn’t want his message lost in all the noise about himself. But most of all, John doesn’t want to miss out on being a member of Christ and his holy Body. So he will sacrifice everything about himself so that he doesn’t lose his portion of the kingdom of heaven.
John models true humility for us as we approach the celebration of our Lord’s holy birth. How can we celebrate the advent of our Savior if we think we don’t need him? How can we receive this Christ and Messiah in our vulnerable flesh if we will not deny ourselves? How can we worship Christ as King if we still cling to the notion that we can live on our own? How can we glorify God for His goodwill toward us and His merciful peace in the Sacrament if we think we can live apart from His holy Body?
St. John is telling those Levites that it’s all about Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It’s all about this Jesus who both existed before I did, and who now comes after me. It’s all about this Jesus whose sandal straps I’m not worthy to untie. He must increase, and I must decrease. He must be the One you talk about and talk to, not me. For your hopes are false if you pin them to anyone or anything other than Him and His holy Body which is His holy Church. That is why John baptized and preached: not to make a name for himself, but to point to the Coming One, so that others might be washed in His saving Blood, and cling to Christ, and commune in Him, and live in His holy Body as He safely takes us through this life into the kingdom of heaven.
God grant unto us the Holy Spirit, that we may receive true humbleness of heart. And in our prayer, let us strive together to shed our lone-wolf status, our pride of distinction and individuality, and instead endeavor to come into closer communion with Christ’s holy Body. For that is how Our Lord’s salvation is bestowed—not through our own merit or worthiness, but by the mercy of God in His Holy Spirit. You have nothing of your own that makes you worthy. But thanks be to God, for Jesus is everything for you: your truth, your life, and your eternal salvation. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.