The old familiar story

With apologies to my friend EFel, I have to admit that by Epiphany 1, I’m pretty sick of hearing about John the Baptist. As if two straight weeks of JBap in Advent isn’t enough, we hear pretty much the same story yet again around the Baptism of our Lord. Yes, the focus is supposed to be on what happens to Jesus at his baptism, but the Gospel accounts are so lacking there, we’re forced to once again hear about a wacky prophet who wears camel hair and eats bugs while proclaiming a baptism of repentance. Maybe it’s almost two decades of Lectionary preaching or misdirected anger after 9 months of pandemic restrictions, but God help me, I’m over JBap.

Of course, maybe that’s the point. In his Crucifixion altarpiece, Matthias Grünewald sets history aside and makes John the Baptist present at the foot of the cross. As you can see, with a wildly elongated finger, John is pointing at Jesus and the words printed above his arm read, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John’s whole purpose in life was to draw attention to the Messiah who was coming and then to get out of the way. I don’t want to attribute too much thought or purpose to the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary, but I wonder if hearing about JBap three out of six Sundays does the job of reminding us of John’s mission and then getting us so annoyed by the old familiar story that he has no choice but to move along having done his job.

Again, I don’t want to jump to too many conclusions, but there seems to be some merit in hearing, repeatedly, someone say, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” only to have them disappear from the scene when the one who is greater shows up. There’s probably a lesson in here for those of us who follow Jesus as well. Rather than getting so focused on how difficult we might find evangelism, on how much we think the Gospel depends on us, maybe we’d do well just to point to Jesus through our words and actions and then get out of the way and let God take care of the rest.

One thought on “The old familiar story

  1. Steve,
    As someone who never (or almost never) tires of John the Baptist. May I offer an explanation of why I don’t tire and also a suggestion to others who have John the Baptist fatigue. In the orthodox church I attended in the 1980s John was inescapable. The Icon of Christ flanked by Mary and John on either side of the holy doors was a constant reminder that without Mary or John there would be no holy door, Jesus. Slowly that sank into me. My cure for John fatigue): read Sergei Bulgakov’s Friend of the Bridegroom (and also his book on Mary the burning bush.) He adds a third to his trilogy on angels. The threesome of John, Mary and angels is an eternal spring. The Florida boy in me always wants to go to the fresh springs.

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