Jesus is definitely the main character in the Advent readings, but some of the supporting roles surrounding his story are quite intriguing. I’ve already shared why Mary is my hero (A Protestant’s confession), but Jesus’ cousin, John, is another one whose life challenges my own.
The beginning of John’s life is unique, beginning with his conception that was miraculous in its own way. I wonder how much John and Jesus knew about each other as they grew up. Did the cousins play together at family reunions? Did their families ever meet in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover? Did their moms share stories? What was his relationship like with his elderly parents who were full of the Holy Spirit?
It’s the end of John’s life, though, that leaves me with challenging questions to ponder. He’s barely thirty years old when he finds himself in prison. It’s the culmination of a life of descent, summed up in his own words when he said, “He (Jesus) must become greater, I must become less.” John 3:30
We spend most of our lives seeking greatness–accomplishments, recognition, financial success, validation, friends and security. We ascend the ladder of success. John, who was a young adult at his prime, descended the ladder one rung at a time. He repeatedly chose not to feed his own ego so others would see Jesus rather than himself.
- He had many followers, but pointed them to Jesus, the Lamb of God, instead of keeping their attention on him (even when his own disciples expressed concern that Jesus was getting more attention).
- When others asked if he was the Messiah he made it clear that he was only a prophet preparing the way.
- And he didn’t soften the truth in order to protect his own image, but rather spoke it boldly, even when it resulted in his imprisonment—Herod, although he respected John as a righteous and holy man, didn’t look kindly on him criticizing his mistress.
- John knew that he himself was not the light, but that he came only as a witness to the light.
I’m so familiar with John’s supporting role in Jesus’ story that I can skim over his life without considering the spiritual submission that happened every time he pointed others to Jesus rather than to himself.
Although Jesus barely began his ministry, John was already living the heart of what Jesus spent the next three years preaching. John prepared people for the coming of the Messiah and a new kingdom with his life and death, not just with his words. And to punctuate that he was not the main character, he exited the stage in his supporting role to Jesus with his head served on a silver platter to Herod’s evil wife. He became less, so Jesus would become greater.
So while it’s more fun to ponder the manger scene with Jesus and the joyous birth of his cousin, John, only a few months earlier, it’s the end of John’s life that leaves me with five questions to ponder-
- How can I become less?
- How do I make Jesus greater?
- How does my own ego get in the way of pointing others to Jesus?
- Am I willing to lose my life?
- What does John’s life (and death) teach me about kingdom living?
Richard Rohr summarizes it well in these words,
“His ego was out of the way so much so that he could let go of his own ego, his own message and even his own life…There’s got to be such emptiness, or we cannot point beyond ourselves to Jesus, as John did.”