Outranked

As we move through the Twelve Days of Christmas, it’s interesting to see that we are still running across the great figure of John the Baptist. The season of Advent makes much of John and the two middle Sundays are largely devoted to his role as the one who ‘prepares the way for the Lord.’

Now, as we work our way through the first chapter of the 4th Gospel – in fact, right after the elegant “Johannine Prologue” about the Word of God becoming flesh – here is John the Baptizer again! “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

And, once again, John shows his humility in the presence of the Nazarene, “This is he of whom I said, ‘after me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’” Well, Jesus’ reputation certainly did not precede John’s own so it’s clear that this text means more than it first seems. How could Jesus have “come before” his elder cousin?

The language John uses for Jesus gives us the clue. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”…the one who would be “revealed to Israel”…the Spirit descending and remaining upon him…and, finally, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

Clearly, in this text, John is identifying Jesus with the Anointed One, the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah. The phrase “Lamb of God” is reflective of Isaiah’s language about the Suffering Servant being like “a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep before its shearers is silent” (Isaiah 53:7)

The language about God’s Spirit descending and remaining on Jesus is reminiscent of all the “anointed ones,” all the kings of Israel and especially the great King David, whose literal and figurative successor the Messiah was expected to be.

 And, of course, long before the title “Son of God” took on the qualities of Incarnation and divinity and the Second Person of the Trinity, it simply was one more way for the people of Israel to describe their Messiah and King. (Later, in this same chapter Nathaniel says to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the king of Israel!” John 1:49)

Faithful, prophetic, humble John. He prepared the way for Jesus, he baptized Jesus and, in a sense, “introduced him” to the world. He worked alongside Jesus, constantly pointing beyond himself to the One he believed to “outrank him.”

Finally, John was martyred by King Herod not only because of his own prophetic ministry, but because – no doubt – of his association with the One whose Kingship was never really intended to rival Herod’s, but which certainly called all the empires of this world into question, and continues to do so today!

As we move toward our conclusion of the celebration of this Messiah’s birth and launch once more into a new year, we could do worse than listen again to John the Baptist as he says, “Behold the Lamb of God; behold Him who takes away the sins of the world!”     

          

 

4 Responses to “Outranked”

  1. Rev Anna Karin Hammar Says:

    Happy New Year!
    From a Church of Sweden horizone I have a question to ECUSA:
    Is the baptism of Jesus in your church seen as uniquely interpreting Christ´s mission to the world or can the baptism of Jesus also be used as interpretation and frame of reference for each and everyone who is baptized today in the Church? Do you read the Scripture from the Baptism of Jesus at e.g. baptism of children in your church?

    Wishing you all a blessed year including Lambeth!

    Anna Karin Hammar

  2. rwkachur Says:

    Amen!

  3. ecubishop Says:

    Anna: We would certainly see the baptism of Jesus as “interpretation and frame of reference for each and everyone who is baptized” as well as being a significant event in Jesus’ own life and ministry.

    While seeing adult baptism, after a period of catechesis, as a liturgical and theological “norm,” the practical fact is most Anglicans are baptized as infants, based on the faith of their parents and godparents, and incorporated in this way into the Body of Christ.

  4. JB Says:

    Anna:

    Echoing Bishop Epting’s comments, it would depend upon who you asked. Some baptize infants as “the thing to do” (to make grandparents happy, to _______ (fill in the blank)) while others baptize children promising to raise them in the faith community and others fall somewhere between the two extremes. As a parent who believed strongly in adult baptism but who married a believer in infant baptism, I cannot tell you how many times I wish my priest would have steered me to Colin Buchanan’s thoughts on it (or somebody like him) — it might have saved a few fights 🙂 It might be worth a read for you, if you can find it.

    Disagreeing with the bishop, however, I wonder how significantly we truly view it. I think if we spent more time on such considerations, our discussions of confirmation might seem less disjointed or confused. Maybe another way to put it would be “if we were settled on the significance and importance of baptism, our theological understanding of confirmation would not be so murky.” — I know, bishop, many an individual can answer those questions (and I have agreed with you in the past when you have answered those kinds of questions from youth or parents), but I do not think we can as a group.

    As to your question about the readings for baptism, we tend to read the readings appointed for the day (most churches now switching from BCP to RCL lectionary). At our church, we certainly encourage baptisms particularly to occur at the Vigil, Pentecost, All Saints’ Day, the Feast of Christ’s Baptism and whenever the bishop visits (which is weird seeing someone baptized or confirmed during Lent but somehow, maybe, strangely appropriate–still working on what I think of that myself).

    Peace,
    JB

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