“The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'” – John 1:29-30
John gets a lot of attention for his big personality: the outfit, the food, the yelling, the insults, the splashiness. Everybody loves a crazy guy on stage. Many will show up just for the spectacle of it; others will be downright converted. It’s never clear, at first, how much substance or charlatanism people like John have in them. It takes a while to find out whether they’re as unimpeachable as they always claim to be.
As is true for most people, the moment Jesus shows up is the moment John’s substance is revealed. He’s been so famous, our John. Prophecies and portents at his birth. A good son of the establishment, gone rogue: the perfect origin story. Best show in town. Preacher of the year. And then along comes Jesus. John could insult him, threaten him, challenge him to a preach-off or fast-off or whatever desert prophets do to settle their grudges. Instead, he goes forehead-to-dirt. “The One has come,” he says, “and it’s not me.” I don’t know if I could have done it in his sandals.
In that moment, we discover that John has not only wisdom, not just clear-sightedness, but also superhuman humility. And that humility pulls back the curtain on John. All that he has done so far now vibrates with power. All that he has preached gains ocean-depths of truth. All his life becomes a story not about him, but about the one standing before him.
Know any big personalities currently waving their arms behind their podiums? Wondering how much substance and how much charlatanism is in them? Of course only time will tell, but imagining what they would do if Jesus were to walk into their next gathering might give you a bit of a preview.
Jesus, wherever I encounter you, let it reveal in me substance, humility, and love. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.