A Small Part in a Big Story

A Small Part in a Big Story

Nativity of John the Baptist

Readings: Isaiah 40. 1-11; Psalm 85. 5-12; Acts 13. 14b-26; Luke 1. 57-66, 80 (view all)

As I’m sure you can imagine, my wife Amy and I have lots of conversations about our daughter, Evie. What kind of person would we like her to grow up to become? What will she be like when she’s older? What career path will she choose? Who is it that God might be calling her to be?

In this morning’s gospel reading, Luke tells us that people had similar questions when John the Baptist was born:

What then will this child become? For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

How did John live out God’s call in his life? And what can we learn from him about the kind of people God might be calling us to be? 

In the birth of John the Baptist, God is opening a new chapter — as the family comment to Zechariah, ‘None of your relatives has that name’ — but a new chapter of a very old story, the whole story of God and his people, Israel.

In our NT reading from Acts, Paul reminds the people as they meet for worship in the synagogue of how great this story is — there are incredible twists and turns, but God has had a plan throughout. He has always been the main character is his story, and the people of Israel are invited to be the supporting cast. 

In fact, the times when things go most awry are when the people of Israel try to take the main role for themselves. Whether it’s through their claiming and bickering in the wilderness, or through their desire for a human leader rather than trusting in God’s presence with them, they often try to reject God’s story in favour of their own aspirations.

The great answer to this problem, and the pinnacle of God’s story, is Jesus himself — ‘A saviour… as he promised’. God sends himself in human flesh in order to draw his people, and the whole of humanity back to him. 

So where does John the Baptist fit in? When he was born people made a big deal of it, so why is he significant? Well, John’s significance is found entirely in his insignificance. 

Throughout the gospels, he is clear that his role is to point to someone greater. He isn’t the main character, and because he knows this and is comfortable with it, he is able instead to focus on being a supporting character. 

And just as he pointed the people of Israel towards the coming of Jesus, in his own words ‘one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unite the thong of the sandals on his feet.’, so we are also called to centre our entire being around Jesus, and pointing others towards him through our words and actions. 

Sometimes, like John, that means being a prophetic voice in our society — and placing our own reputations or popularity on the line. Like John himself, we stand in a long tradition of prophecy — that is, sharing how God feels about a situation with our wider society — going back to the Old Testament prophets, like the prophet Isaiah from whom we’ve heard this morning. 

Sometimes, it may mean modelling a new, radical way of living through our actions — in the same way that John wore sackcloth and ashes as a sign of repentance. 

But always, like John, it will mean pointing towards Jesus — not pursuing a starring role in our own story, but instead joyfully playing a supporting role in his great story of salvation. 

I wonder, this morning: Will we listen to God’s call on our lives this morning to be a prophetic voice in our society today? Will we dare to model through our actions a radically different way of life centred on Jesus’ values of faith, hope and love? 

How can we as a church embrace God’s call to point our friends, families and neighbours towards him through word and deed? 

One of the great Christian mystics, St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Carmelite nun, wrote this meditation on our role as Christians in the world:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours.

Just as he called John the Baptist, God calls us to play a supporting role in his great story, to be his body pointing others towards his message of love. May we hear his call on our own lives as we journey to his table this morning, and grow, in the power of the Spirit, into the people he is calling us to be.

Almighty God,
by whose providence
your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour
by the preaching of repentance:
lead us to repent according to his preaching,
and after his example
constantly to speak the truth,
boldly to rebuke vice,
and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.