Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance:
Collect for the Nativity of John the Baptist, page 241, Book of Common Prayer
John the Baptist is surely one of the most flamboyant personalities in the Bible. Of priestly descent, John chose not to follow in his father’s footsteps, serving as a priest of the temple. Instead he went into the wilderness (some think he may have spent a period of time with the Essenes before leaving them as well) to begin his public ministry proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. While he acquired a significant number of followers during his brief ministry, John constantly spoke of the fact that the was preparing the way for someone greater than he, whose sandals he was not worthy to stoop down and untie. When his cousin, younger cousin mind you, appeared before him asking to be baptized, John immediately recognized Jesus for who he was, and replied that it was he, John, who needed to be baptized by Jesus. Jesus insisted on John baptizing him, but it is that moment of humility on John’s part that is worth noting.
John had developed quite a following. He was famous. Human nature being what it is, we all like to be recognized, or better yet, to imagine that we’re the best at something. Whether it be an athletic record, academic accomplishment, business success, monetary gain or a completely selfless act of generosity that brings us recognition, we enjoy it, and that’s okay. What we need to remember, however, is that there will always be someone who is bigger, stronger, smarter, younger, or more charismatic who will eventually replace us, and that is as it should be. Just as John knew that he was simply the opening act, if you will, preparing the world for the coming of the Messiah, we need to keep in mind that none of us is the be all, end all of anything. While some may find this disheartening, I find it comforting. Feeling like we have to always be the best, that everything depends on us, is not only exhausting, it’s wrong. Nothing we accomplish is without God’s help after all.
So as we prepare our homes and hearts for the coming of the Christ child at Christmas we would do well to remember John’s humility. We don’t need to put up the most elaborate display of Christmas lights in the neighborhood, we just need to do enough to make our home sufficiently different from the everyday so that the season feels special. We don’t need to give wildly expensive gifts, but simply gifts that express the love we feel for the people to whom we give them. Jesus didn’t call us to be the best that there is, simply the best that we can be.