Thursday, December 18, 2014

David's Sunday


By the time we get to the fourth Sunday in Advent, it’s finally time to talk about Mary. The gospel lesson is the Annunciation, and the canticle is the Magnificat. On the surface, everything seems to be focused on Mary’s story, but, if you dig a little deeper, you discover there’s another important figure being celebrated this week.

Maybe we should call this David’s Sunday. King David is the focus of the Old Testament lesson (2 Sam. 7:1-11, 16). If we were to read the psalm instead of the canticle, we would hear echoes of the first lesson throughout. And, if you take another look at the Annunciation story, you can see that David and the promises made to him are central to the angel’s prophetic announcement to Mary. This late in Advent, it’s easy to jump ahead to the birth story and focus on Mary’s role (important, yes), but I don’t think we’re supposed to leave behind the Advent theme of promise and expectation quite yet, so I encourage you to take another look at David.

In the OT reading, David announces to Nathan that he will build a house for God and the Ark. Nathan agrees that it is a good idea, and he invites the king to proceed. That night, however, God appears to Nathan in a dream and tells him otherwise. Instead of David building a house for God, God will establish an everlasting house for David. There’s a great double-meaning of “house” here, so, when you hear it, think “House of Tudor” or “House of Stewart”—the kinds of lineages and families that were once described as a “house.” In other words, God is promising David a lineage, and, through it, God is promising his people the safety and security of a good king. For some reason I do not understand, the lectionary skips over the verses that talk about the offspring promised to David: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” The prophet probably had Solomon in mind or maybe another earthly king that would come someday, but, as Christians, we like to think of Jesus in those terms.

Read the gospel lesson for Sunday and listen for that Davidic focus: “of the house of David” and “the throne of his ancestor David” and “will reign over the house of Jacob forever” and “his kingdom there will be no end.” It is quintessentially important to Luke (also Matthew) that Jesus is identified as David’s offspring. Of all the messianic expectations that permeated first-century Judaism, the reestablishment of David’s line and throne was at the top of the list. David represented leadership at the pinnacle of Israel’s success. During his reign, the kingdom was as big as it would ever get. There was a united monarchy. Israel was the biggest and strongest geopolitical player in the area. Those were the glory days, and the reestablishment of David’s throne was the easiest way of envisioning the fulfillment of the hopes of God’s people.

Of course, the story of David’s heir unfolded differently than we might expect. I think Mary’s question of the angel points to some of these disconnects. “How can this be?” she asks. Partly that was a biological question, as her reference to her virginity makes clear. But I think it was also a cultural question. The angel was promising that her offspring would be David’s heir, but how can a peasant girl give birth to a king—virginity aside? Perhaps Mary knew that her betrothed was of David’s line, but, still, I think she needed some help connecting the dots. And the odd arrangement for Jesus’ birth (peasant girl, born in a stable, adored by shepherds) is mirrored in the unusual acclimation he receives as king (hosanna in the highest! but killed on the cross).

All of that leaves me wondering what role David plays in our own understanding of messiah. How is Jesus’ the son of David? How is he the fulfillment of the promises made in 2 Sam 7? Is the Davidic line still important to us? How does David’s legacy represent that for which God’s people still wait? What sort of throne are we expecting? Yes, we’re waiting for Jesus to come back, but what does that mean? If we’re still waiting for the gilded throne of power, I think we’ll be disappointed. The cross wasn’t an accident, nor was it a failure. It was the perfect expression of God’s power. So what sort of king are we waiting for?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Is Repentance Good News?


During the summer before I started my last year of seminary, I had the privilege of serving as an intern at St. James Episcopal Church in Fairhope. That summer, I got to see the ins and outs of parish life. I visited people in the hospital. I went to staff meetings and Vestry meetings. I taught a short Sunday-school series, and I also had the chance to preach. A lot of rectors are reluctant to share their pulpit with anyone—especially a green, still-learning-the-craft seminarian. But not Mark Wilson. Without hesitation, he put me on the schedule and said, “Go for it.”

I preached my heart out. I don’t remember which scripture lessons were assigned for that day, but I do remember that I wove the Prayer of Humble Access into the sermon because the texts were about sin and repentance. I remember hitting the congregation with a heavy dose of sin before wrapping it up with a hopeful word about returning to the Lord. Looking back, I recall that it wasn’t a very good sermon. In fact, it wasn’t good at all. I made plenty of rookie mistakes. I used too many different images instead of focusing on a consistent theme. I didn’t draw the congregation into the sermon with a story or analogy that they could relate to. I went too long on some unnecessary points and skipped over some important transitions. In short, it was the kind of sermon you would expect a seminarian to give. But they loved it.

If you count my time in seminary, I have been preaching sermons for eleven years, and, still, it never fails to amaze me how well received even mediocre sermons are if they are about sin. People love hearing sermons about sin. They come out of church and say the most positive things. Any preacher knows to read between the lines when he hears something like, “Beautiful day we’re having today. I thought it might be colder. Maybe I’ll go home and sweep the back patio. Oh, and nice sermon, too.” But, when I preach about sin, there are long, lingering looks on the way out of church, nods of affirmation, hushed tones of appreciation, and almost confessional compliments. Why is that?

Usually, when I think of preachers who are likely to talk about sin, I picture the kind to whom I cannot stand listening—the kind who stand on the corner and hand out flyers about “turning or burning” while they are yelling the “good news” at everyone who walks by. When the gospel of Jesus Christ is presented in those terms—in the “you’d-better-do-this-or-else-you’ll-burn-in-hell” terms—I feel a strong urge to run in the opposite direction. I feel repulsed by the message. I feel shame that I share the same occupation as such an angry preacher. And I feel a deep sadness that such a misguided proclamation of what should be the good news is actually pushing people away from God. But, when I preach about sin and when I hear other preachers in churches like ours preach about sin, it has the opposite effect. Somehow, it draws us in. Instead of pushing us away, it draws us closer to God. Why is that? I think it’s because repentance is good news.

As we heard in today’s reading from Mark (1:1-8), “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.’” And what did that messenger say? “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Come and be baptized and await the coming of God’s kingdom.” It is remarkable to me that Mark begins his account of the “good news” with a message of repentance. For him, this is where the gospel starts—not with a lengthy genealogy or with a touching birth narrative or with a theologically sophisticated prologue but with a call to repent.

Repentance is good news. When given its full and proper richness, repentance is very good news because it is the beginning of a new relationship with God. The word “repentance” has its roots in words that mean “to turn around.” When we repent, we turn our hearts around, and the process of turning has two essential pieces to it—that from which we turn away and that to which we now turn. Yes, repentance is about turning away from sin. It is about forsaking all that impairs our ability to know who God is and what God’s will is for our lives. It is about leaving the old behind. It is about turning our backs on evil. But repentance is also a turning toward something even more wonderful than we can image—God’s love. As we turn toward God, we turn toward the one who forgives us. We turn toward his acceptance of even a wayward child. We embrace what it means to be redeemed. We look forward to the full and rich and wonderful life that God has in store for us.

Why do people like it when they hear sermons about sin? Because I don’t know how to preach about sin without preaching about forgiveness. Because God is a God of love and forgiveness and redemption. Because we believe in a gospel of truly good news. If you’ve heard a message of repentance but didn’t like what you heard, there’s a good chance you only heard half of the story. Hear, instead, the good news of Jesus Christ: God invites you to leave your old self behind and embrace the new, forgiven, redeemed self that God loves without limit. Repent, for God’s wonderful, loving kingdom is at hand.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday Message for Rotary

For the second year in a row, I've been asked to speak at Rotary about "what Christmas means to me." Since Rotary represents a plurality of faith traditions and includes members of no faith at all, I choose to speak from a broad perspective. Here are my thoughts, which I shared at today's meeting of the Decatur Rotary Club.


One year at about this time—maybe a week and a half before Christmas—I found the place where my parents were hiding my presents. Up in the attic, in the top cabinet of a discarded armoire, were stuffed most of the presents by brothers and I would get under the tree. This was huge! It was the mother-load! It was the stash I had been dreaming about finding for years. And it was, as you can imagine, the death of my Christmas joy.

On Christmas morning, when I ran into the living room to see what was under the tree, I looked to discover that I already knew what was under the tree. And, once the whole family was awake and we began opening presents, I unwrapped each one to find that I had gotten precisely the thing I already knew I would get. There may have been one or two little things that my mother bought at the last minute that I had not seen up in the attic, but, for the most part, that Christmas was a bust. It’s pretty easy to tell when an eight-year-old isn’t his usual thrilled self on Christmas morning, and my parents asked me what was wrong.

“You didn’t like your presents?”

“No, they’re great. They’re just what I wanted.”

“Then what’s wrong? Why aren’t you happy?”

I didn’t want to tell them what I had done. And I didn’t really need to. I had punished myself. I had learned my lesson.

Christmas is for surprises. Whatever your tradition, the holiday season is meant for surprises.

At Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. In that birth, they recognize the fulfillment of many of God’s ancient promises: God’s promise to shepherd his people into a time and place of safety and security, God’s promise to lift up the downtrodden and champion the cause of the oppressed, and God’s promise to comfort those who have suffered for generations. But what sort of fulfillment did God send? God did not send a mighty prince or a military power. God did not show up in a force strong enough to overthrow the enemies of God’s people. Instead, God arrived as a little baby—a fragile, weak, and helpless infant. And that holy child was not born in a palace or near the Jerusalem temple but in a drafty barn. He was attended not by priests and princes but by shepherds and sheep.

Likewise, during Hanukkah, Jews remember another moment when God surprised his people. About 165 before the first Christmas, the Jerusalem temple was in peril. Antiochus, the leader of the Seleucid Empire, had desecrated the temple by stripping it of its Jewish treasures and building in its place an altar to Zeus. He forbade the practice of Judaism, and insisted that pigs be sacrificed in the temple instead—an unabashed affront to the laws and customs of the Jewish people. In response to these unholiest of practices, a revolt arose among the Jewish people. Led by “Judah the Hammer,” and his brothers and their father, the Maccabees overthrew Antiochus and the Seleucid occupation of Jerusalem. After regaining control of the temple, Judah ordered that it be cleansed and rededicated for the worship of Israel’s God. But there was a problem. The lampstand, which held a flame that was never to go out, could only be filled with pure, unfiltered, undefiled olive oil, which took over a week to prepare. They only had enough oil to keep the menorah lit for one night, but, as you know, God has a way of surprising his people, and God made it possible for that one night’s oil to keep the lamp burning for eight nights, until more had been made. And God’s people celebrate the fact that God has the power to show up and surprise us even when we think there is no hope.

You don’t need to be a person of faith to enjoy the surprises of the holidays. Whether it’s opening a present under the tree or being reunited with a loved one who has been stationed overseas or making amends with someone you thought you’d never speak to again, the holidays have the power to surprise us in the most amazing ways. The only danger is approaching this time of year as if everything will happen exactly as we expect it to. This is a magical time of year, and the beauty of this season is its ability to surprise us. Look for surprises this year. Approach the holidays like a little child. Expect the unexpected. Imagine the possibilities. And trust that the best part of this season is its ability to catch us unawares.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Waiting on God Means Sharing the Spotlight

December 14, 2014 – Advent 3A
© 2014 Evan D. Garner

Audio of this sermon can be heard here.



Zim zala bim.

Earlier this year, I was on a Cursillo staff with Robert Wisnewski, my old boss. A few days before the weekend began, I asked Robert if we were going to do his famous skit, and he told me that he had been thinking about it. He asked me if I was up for it, and I told him, “Absolutely.” I had been watching old YouTube videos of the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for weeks, just hoping I’d have the chance.

Who here remembers Carnac the Magnificent? That was Johnny Carson’s character who wore the gigantic turban and kept the audience laughing with his deadpan humor. He was a “visitor from the east” who, through his “divine powers,” could give the answer to a question inside a sealed envelope even before it had been opened. I knew by reputation that Robert Wisnewski could do a very good impersonation of Carnac. My worry was whether I would be an adequate Ed McMahon.

I vaguely—very vaguely—remember when Johnny Carson was on the Tonight Show. I was only eleven years old when Carson retired, so, even though I was casually familiar with Carnac, I knew I needed to do some homework before going on stage with Robert. So I watched a lot of YouTube videos, and the more I watched the more I realized that Ed McMahon’s role was a hard one to play—maybe even harder than Carson’s. I learned all of the lines—“Since eleven o’clock this morning, these envelopes have been hermetically sealed and kept in a mayonnaise jar on a porch at Funk and Wagnall’s. No one—NO ONE—has seen the contents of these envelopes, yet you, O Great One, with your amazing powers will divine the answers to the questions even before the envelopes are opened…” But that’s the easy part. The hard part wasn’t knowing what to say. It was knowing what not to say.

For thirty years, McMahon was Carson’s sidekick. For thirty years, he played second fiddle. For thirty years, he had to bite his tongue to keep himself from jumping to the humorous ad lib before Carson got there himself. As McMahon wrote in his autobiography, “I had to support him, I had to help him get to the punch line, but while doing it I had to make it look as if I wasn't doing anything at all. The better I did it, the less it appeared as if I was doing it.”[1] It’s hard work making someone else look good, and McMahon was masterful at it. You have to laugh obsequiously when the boss’ joke isn’t really funny to let the audience know that you’re teasing him a little bit, but you can’t take it too far or else you make him look like an idiot. There’s an art to being a co-host or a vice-chair or a sidekick or a curate. And mastering the art of playing second fiddle starts by remembering who you are and, more importantly, who you aren’t.

In today’s reading from John, we meet the Ed McMahon of the gospel: John the Baptist, the man sent from God, who came as a witness to testify to the light. As the gospel writer tells us, “He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to it.” Two thousand years later, we take it for granted that John the Baptist wasn’t the messiah because we know the whole story. We know that he played the role of the forerunner, the herald, the set-up man. But, back then, to those who were watching John the Baptist’s following grow, to those who were leaving their homes to go out into the countryside to hear him preach and to watch him baptize, that wasn’t clear at all.

“Who are you?” the priests and Levites asked John the Baptist. “Who are you? Are you the messiah? Are you Elijah? Are you the prophet? Who are you? What do you represent? What should we make of you and your ministry?” For a while, the religious leaders in Jerusalem had been watching him. They had noticed how more and more people were going out to hear what he had to say. People seemed caught up in his message. They were willing to leave their jobs and their homes and their families to go and follow him in the desert places. The authorities could not deny his charismatic gifts. So many people had been drawn to him and his message of repentance. The religious leaders wanted to know what they were dealing with, so they sent representatives to go and ask him who he was. And they were shocked at what they heard.

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,’” he told them. “I am not the messiah, nor am I Elijah, nor am I the prophet. I am none of those things. I am just a voice—the voice of God’s servant crying out in the barren places that the time to prepare for the coming of God and his kingdom is now.” But that didn’t make sense to them. He was acting like the main attraction. He was drawing headliner crowds, but he was telling those crowds that he was just a sidekick, a set-up guy, a voice reminding the people to look for something else. The priests and Levites didn’t understand how that could be. John the Baptist was too popular, too gifted, too impressive not to take center stage. He deserved a show of his own, but he didn’t want it. Instead, he wanted to be the person he was made to be and to fill the role God was calling him to fill.

John the Baptist shows us that we cannot know what it means to wait for God and for his kingdom until we know who we are and, more importantly, who we are not. So who are you? And who aren’t you? Are you the star of your life, or are you the co-host? Do you want the spotlight, or are you willing to yield it to someone else? Do you take credit for the successes in your life, or do you use them to point others to the one who has given you those successes? John the Baptist had everything, but he gave it all away because he knew that the only thing that mattered was the one who would come after him. What about you? Can you say the same? Do you draw people to yourself, or do you point people to Jesus?

There is a God, and you are not him. That might sound like a simple, obvious statement, but it is a profound truth, and it is the true origin of faith. Nothing can begin until we understand that—that there is a God and that we are not him. From our first parents—as long as there have been human beings on the earth—we have wanted to be like God. And, as long as we are striving to be that which we are not—as long as we indulge in the illusion that we are our own master—we cannot know what it means to need God in our lives. That is the first sin. God is waiting to come into our hearts and minds, but that can’t happen until we accept what it means to be human, which is what repentance is all about.

Repentance is how we wait on God. Repentance is how we make space in our hearts for the one who made us. Repentance is how we embrace our true identity—by acknowledging who we are not and seeking that which we need more than anything else. That is John the Baptist’s voice, crying out in the wilderness. That is what it means to prepare the way of the Lord. Repentance is good news because repentance is the only way we can ever be ready to meet God. Amen.



[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tonight_Show_Starring_Johnny_Carson#Ed_McMahon

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Very Denying Denial


The dog that barks usually bit.
Whoever smelt it dealt it.
Whoever denied it supplied it.

Do you remember the childish back-and-forth over which kid it was who passed gas? Maybe I’m the only one who grew up in such puerile circles, but I suspect others are familiar with the logic of “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Ever suspect a child of causing trouble and then have your suspicions confirmed by an overly denying culprit? One of my favorite Nooma videos by Rob Bell is “Lump,” and it starts with a story about one of Bell’s sons denying the theft of a small white ball in a weird, Urkel-like refutation. We can tell when someone goes so far out of his or her way to claim innocence that that person ends up suggesting his or her guilt.



So what’s the deal with John the Baptist? In John 1, the Jewish authorities send priests and Levites to go and investigate what was behind John’s ministry. They arrive at the Jordan River, where John was baptizing, and they ask, “Who are you?” Perhaps they forgot the pleasantries that are normally associated with such an encounter—like “Hello, there. We’ve heard about you.” Regardless, their question seems innocent enough. “Who are you?” It’s open-ended. It isn’t accusatory. It gives John the ability to say as much or as little as he wants.

But what is his reply? “I am not the Messiah.” John the Gospeller, the editor who is bringing all of this together, introduces John the Baptist’s comment with some even stranger language: “He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’” Seems pretty suspicious to me.

Now, before we go any further, let’s stop for a moment and derail all of the conspiracy-theory hijinks and say that John the Baptist wasn’t pretending to be the Messiah. This isn’t him denying something so firmly that we discover his guilt. But the nature of the denial—both by John the Gospeller and by John the Baptist—suggest that others in the crowd were a little suspicious. Think of this overt, over-the-top, triple denial as both Johns’ way of saying, “This might be an exciting prophet who has grabbed the attention of a multitude with his sharp message of repentance, but he isn’t who you might suspect he is.”

So what’s the point of this passage? That’s the real question for the preacher. This series of questions for John the Baptist by the Jewish authorities (the priests and their kinfolk, no less!) is intended to show us what it means to wait for the coming Christ. After the long list of denials, John’s eventual self-identification as “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness” lets the reader know that John and his ministry are about making the way between God and his people straight. God comes to his people not in the person of John but in the person of Jesus. But God’s people have some “work” to do to get ready for the coming Messiah, namely be baptized.

It is remarkable to me that the priests and Levites associate baptism with the work of the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet. They seem surprised that John, although not one of these, is still baptizing. Their surprise lets us know that their expectation for the Messiah or one of the prophets of old includes a call to a purification ritual. But John’s understanding of baptism is different. He knows that baptism isn’t the end—it’s just the beginning. Baptism is in preparation for what else will come. “I baptize with water,” he says. “Someone standing among you who is more powerful than I is coming, and he is holy to the point that I am not even worthy to untie his sandals in order to wash his feet. He’s the one we are getting ready for.”

Yes, this story is about repentance, but it’s also about so much more. It’s about repentance that points us to the coming of the Messiah. It’s about repentance so that the path between God and his people will be straight. It’s about repentance that points not to itself but to the good news of what is coming.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Salvation Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow


By Sunday, the church will have made quite a journey during the first three weeks of Advent. The “good news” has been expressed first as a promise of God’s coming judgment, then as a confirmation that out of judgment will come relief, and finally this Sunday as a message that God’s salvation has indeed come. We can see this transition in the Old Testament progression from Isaiah 64’s “O that you would tear the heavens down…” to Isaiah 40’s “Comfort, O comfort my people…” to Isaiah 61’s “The spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring good news to the oppressed.” As I read these OT lessons, I feel that we’ve journeyed through wilderness and trial and are emerging into that place of promise.

As I read the gospel lessons, though, it’s easy for me to miss that transition. Sure, it’s pretty clear that judgment is the theme of Mark 13 and the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds with great power and glory, but last Sunday’s Mark 1 and this Sunday’s John 1 both portray John the Baptist who is making the way straight by baptizing penitent sinners in the Jordan River. Because the text is so similar last week and this week, it would be easy for me to hear it as a reiterated message with no growth or development, but the OT lessons remind me to search for that progress as the church walks its way through Advent and towards the Nativity.

It might be overplaying it, but today in John’s version my eyes fall to John the Baptist’s description of the messiah as “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.” Contrast that with Mark’s version, in which John proclaims, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me.” In last week’s account, the focus is on the one who is yet to come, but this week we hear of the one who has already come yet whom we have not fully recognized yet. To me, that sounds like the message of Advent.

What is the manner of our waiting? Are we waiting for a salvation that has not come yet? Are we still in that place of Isaiah 64 and Mark 13, which describe the triumphant action of God as a perhaps distant reality? Have we moved to Isaiah 40 and Mark 1, which proclaim a message of hope that is coming soon? Or have we made it to Isaiah 61 and John 1, which show that God’s salvation is already hear and that we need to work on recognizing it?

By the time we get to 4 Advent, the church needs to realize that salvation is both here already and not yet. Our readings next week propel us very clearly into the Nativity story, which is, of course, good and right. We need to prepare to hear again the story of our savior’s birth. Before we do, however, we need to internalize that truth that the salvation for which we wait has come, and is here, and will come again. We need Advent 3 to help bridge the gap between salvation in the past and salvation in the future. We need to hear that the one who is coming is already standing in our midst. We need to open our eyes and look for that salvation, which is right here right now.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Being a Good Ed McMahon

Before Advent started, our organist and I sat down and picked all of the hymns for the season. Unlike Steve Pankey, I think Advent hymns are wonderful. I can’t get enough of them, and the organist and I have to work hard to get every one of our favorites in before the short four weeks are up. In our first attempt, we finished the music for the second Sunday of Advent and suddenly realized to our horror that, even though the gospel lesson was Mark 1, we had neglected to include the organist’s wife’s favorite hymn, “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry,” in our line up for that week. If we made it to Christmas without singing it, she wouldn’t let either of us live it down.

But then, to our relief, we discovered that the third Sunday of Advent basically gives us the same gospel story from a different perspective—John’s version instead of Mark’s.

So, again, this Sunday, we will hear, “…the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” I didn’t preach yesterday—Seth gave a great sermon on the inner wilderness—but this gives me a chance to say all of the things I wanted to say yesterday but didn’t have the chance.

Mainly, I’m thinking about John the Baptist’s role in pointing forward to something else: “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.” The baptizer's entire identity—especially as expressed in the Gospel according to John—is about pointing to another. Unlike Mark’s version, where the details are scant, this encounter involves John identifying himself to the religious authorities of his day. “Who are you?” they ask. And, with an awkward triple-denial that says a lot about what he himself is thinking, he replies, “I am not the Messiah.”

“Well, then, who are you? Elijah?” they ask. “Wrong again,” John answers.

“Are you the prophet?” they ask. “Nope.” John says.

Finally, exasperated and running out of ideas, they say, “Then tell us who you are. Give us an answer for those who sent us.” And John says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness…”

John is the voice. He is one who cries out. He makes ready the path of the Lord. He isn't the main attraction. He's just Ed McMahon.

There is something to be said for knowing who one is and for living fully into that identity. The question of identity is brought up again by the religious authorities, who ask why he was baptizing if he wasn’t the messiah or Elijah or the prophet. When asked, John simply said, “I baptize with water. I’m trying to get us ready for the one who is coming.”

It’s a hard life always pointing to someone else—being the Chief of Staff but never the President, being the bridesmaid but never the bride, being the understudy but never the lead. There’s something faithful about that. There’s something faithful and inviting about John’s witness—about losing our sense of self for the sake of one mightier than we.