Know thyself.” In my world, this is an oft-repeated maxim. Ancient wisdom and modern psychology have taught us that self-awareness is essential for any leader, any church, or any relationship to succeed.
But while most personality tests or spiritual-gifts assessments focus on who we are, some of the crucial self-discoveries are about who we’re not.
The Gospel of John’s introduction of John the Baptist exemplifies this reality, describing him almost entirely by who he’s not. He’s not the light. He’s not the Messiah. He’s not Elijah. He’s not the prophet.
Taken out of context, we might wonder if John is having an identity crisis. And yet his message seems refreshing—a message we probably need to hear during this season: It’s not about him.
How would repeated reminders of this message affect how we engage in Christmas preparations? Perhaps they would cause us to rethink what we do and how. Do the Christmas cards with the beautiful family photos show that our life is great, or do they point to the One who is coming? Are the exquisitely wrapped gifts an attempt to match our mental image of holiday perfection, or do they point toward the Christ child?
This realization is not meant to bring guilt or judgment but freedom. It’s not about you. When the turkey doesn’t turn out quite right or the gifts aren’t wrapped on time, it’s okay— because this is not about you. When the same family argument breaks out in spite of your attempt to appease everyone, it’s not about you. When you’re the preacher and you run out of words to comfort or transform, it’s not about you. We have a part to play, but it’s not about us. One who is greater is coming.
God, may all our Advent reflections and Christmas preparations be not about me but about pointing to your light, your joy that is to come. Amen.
In Isaiah 61, the Anointed One declares a message of liberation. Justice, righteousness, and praise will blossom as new shoots of growth in the garden of the Lord. Psalm 126 remembers a time in the past when God’s mercy broke forth in an unparalleled manner. The character of the community and of the individual members will be transformed. The First Thessalonians text voices a yearning for the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” yet the promise of the Second Advent has kindled great hope and gladness in the heart of the Christian community. The reading from the Gospel of John also raises the issue of the mood of expectancy that characterizes the period of time between promise and fulfillment.
• Read Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11. If “the spirit of the Lord GOD is upon” you, what does that mean for the way you live day by day?
• Read Psalm 126. Have you experienced joy in a time of brokenness? How do you understand the seeming contradictions?
• Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24. Which of the disciplines Paul speaks of in verses 16-22 do you faithfully practice? Which might you cultivate further?
• Read John 1:6-8, 19-28. John not only knows his role; he knows who he is not: the Messiah. In this time of Advent waiting, consider who you are not. How does that consideration simplify your life? What may you release?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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