Becoming John-like – Br. James Koester

Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Isaiah 40: 1-11
Psalm 85: 7-13
Acts 13: 14b-26
Luke 1: 57-80

Six months ago we celebrated the birth of a baby. And not just any baby, but a particular baby whose birth and life and death and life changed the course of world history. But the birth of that baby did not just change world history; it also changed the lives and histories of countless women and men throughout the centuries, including each one of us. None of us here in the chapel tonight have had our lives untouched by the One whose birth we celebrated last December. Even the most skeptical and cynical, the most casual, or simply the most curious here tonight have been changed in incalculable ways by that birth. If that were not true, why are you not home making supper even as we speak?

Since the birth of that baby two thousand years ago people have tried, sometimes with heroic success and other times with equally stunning failure, to pattern their lives after his life and teaching. We can all think of people who have succeeded, or not, in shaping their life after his. We know too of our own attempts, and equally of our own failures, to live lives like his: lives full of love, and goodness, and truth, and beauty; lives marked by generosity, and grace, and even sacrifice. As Christians, our aim is not simply to be good people, but to have our lives transformed by the power of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

For two millennia people, and we among them, have aimed to live Christ-like lives and thereby transform and transfigure the world, not simply into the vision, but more importantly into the reality of God’s reign of justice and peace for all.

Six months ago we celebrated the birth of that baby because we know the reality of God in his life, death and resurrection. By celebrating his birth we celebrate that divine presence not only in him but also in the world which God loves, and for which Christ died and rose again. Indeed, by celebrating his birth, we celebrate the presence of God, in the world, and also in our own lives which have been so deeply marked by his life.

Today, six months later, we celebrate the birth of another baby. Like that first birth, this birth has the power to capture our attention and feed our imagination. Like the first birth, this one also has the power to bring us closer to God and like the first this birth is surrounded by events beyond our understanding, and even our comprehension. One, was born of a virgin, the other of an old woman. Neither woman should have been pregnant, the first because there was no man involved in the conception, the other because she was long past the age of child bearing, yet both women gave birth to sons and both husbands had encounters with angels.

In most of our experiences, babies aren’t born this way. They don’t come about as a result of angelic messages and unusual circumstances. All of us long ago gave up our belief in cabbage patches and storks. Yet the only way we can begin to explain these two births is through the power of poetry and the language myth. And I use those two words carefully and on purpose, not in the sense of untruths and fairytales, but in the sense of truths beyond our comprehension. Both Jesus and John are so much larger than our ability to comprehend that only through the power of poetry and language of myth can we begin to understand who they are as Emmanuel, God with us, and John, the prophet of the Most High. The one, the very being of God made flesh, and the other destined to prepare the way, pointing for all to see the one whom he preceded in life and death.

And that for me is the message of John: John the Forerunner, John the Preceder, John the Pointer. John whose birth we celebrate today, we born to point the way to the one whose birth we celebrate in December. In life and death, John went before, pointing the way.

Many, including I would guess all of us here, struggle to live Christian lives. We struggle to be Christ-like. We have moments of great success when our lives are so clearly patterned after the life of Christ, and we have times of great humiliation when Christ-like lives are far from who we are. Yet John points, literally, to another way of faithfulness. For wild, crazy, spittle running down his beard John, is far from the gentle, wise Jesus portrayed in most of the gospels. The two who shared such unusual beginnings, could not be more different, yet both are models of faithfulness and when we don’t have the grace to be like Christ, perhaps we can have the insight to be like John. And that for me is my gospel word for John: insight.

John was a man full of insight, who could see, and seeing could proclaim, and proclaiming could point. John could see, and proclaim and point to the very being and work of God in his midst, “Here is the Lamb of God” says John. Here is the one “who takes away the sin of the world” [John 1:29] John was so clear sighted that he could see God in Christ, and in seeing proclaimed him and pointed him out to others.

Just as the world needs people to live Christ-like lives, so it needs people to live John-like lives: people full of insight who can see clearly the person and work of God moving about the world, and in seeing proclaim and in proclaiming point to those moments of God which go unnoticed by so many, so often.

To be Christ-like is a challenging task for it demands us to be loving and forgiving; it demands us to bring healing and reconciliation where there is dis-ease and brokenness. To be John-like is no less challenging for it demands us to be insightful and to pay attention to the ways of God. It demands us to see and proclaim and point to God whenever and wherever we see the Divine. Yet to be John-like is no less important than being Christ-like for to paraphrase Paul: how will they notice, if no one points, and how will they point, if no one proclaims, and how will they proclaim, if no one sees.

We are here tonight in this chapel not simply because God in Christ has had the power to transform our lives, but because we have also heard the message of John: Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We are here tonight not simply because of our attraction to Jesus but because somewhere in the din of noise that surrounds our lives we heard someone calling out something about someone, and we turned around in the direction they were pointing. We are here tonight because someone got our attention and turned us around so that we could face God at work in the person of Jesus, in the lives of God’s saints and in the beauty and wonder of creation. We are here tonight, not simply because of Jesus, but also because of John.

As Christians we are called to lead Christ-like lives, so that people can see the nature of God through the quality of our love and life. But we are also called to lead John-like lives, by calling out to others and pointing them in the direction of God’s life, and love and being in the person of Jesus.

May we all have the insight of John, so that we may see, and seeing may we proclaim, and proclaiming may we point so that others may notice, and hear, and see and in so doing turn their hearts to God who loves them with an everlasting love.

© 2009

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  1. Susan Zimmerman on June 24, 2018 at 17:37

    …the teaching ministry of the local churches is absent…”…Jesus was in the temple (doing what daily)….” …so thankful for the Jesuits in my life…we can try but the Spirit of God must open doors…even if we’re paying attention and are wide awake..keep doing what we can do

  2. susan zimmerman on January 3, 2017 at 19:39

    …then there is Luke 16, where Jesus said, “…if they can’t handle Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead…Ha! has good as the Christmas story…Da!

  3. Christina on January 3, 2017 at 08:32

    Mrs. Myers, Mrs. Hardy, Mrs. Archer, Dickie Savage, Aunty Chris, Jessie Armstrong.
    Perhaps you wonder where I am going with those names. Half of them were church goers – the rest I don’t know about. BUT they all had a tremendous influence upon who I am today. They never talked about God or Jesus, but their love towards their fellow man was palpable. So, it is’t always words that stay with us – it is the love and examples we receivefrom others as we journey through this life.
    Blessings. Christina

  4. Marta e. on June 11, 2015 at 04:57

    I’m away on “vacation” so I don’t have my usual toolbox with me. So, It seems that this meditation is written well in advance of the Baptiser’s saint’s day. This is very helpful to be prepared for such a celebration as the one who baptized Jesus. It, in addition to being a beautiful meditation, allows me to be and become better prepared. Thanks also for the beautiful use of words and parallel-isms as memory tools.
    Also, I find the system of being on the list of “subscribers” helpful as it lets me access the meditations when I particularly “need” them. The meditations help me turn from useless mental meandering (the “monkey talk”) to more useful contemplation which is soothing and relaxing and leads to mindful-ness practice and improved prayer life. Thank you!

  5. Christopher Engle Barnhart on June 9, 2015 at 18:21

    In the fall of 2010, I was turned around when I attended my Cursillo. I had be away from Christ for 15 years. Doing my own thing and not to sucessfully. But it was my wife who led me to Cursillo, she pointed the way.

  6. Ellen Nelson on June 9, 2015 at 09:19

    This is a real gem. Inspiring and impels to action.

  7. Ron Spann on June 24, 2014 at 11:45

    So good for us to celebrate the Baptizer, and to have a lovely reflection like this. BTW, please amend the tradducción al español [and also into Italian] to capture the accuracy of the French and Portuguese versions of the penultimate paragraph – to clarify the reference to God’s love, life and being as found in the person of Christ…

  8. Mino Sullivan on June 24, 2014 at 06:52

    Thank you James for the exhortation to speak out, to point. The gift of knowing God’s presence and love is too great to keep to one’s self. The joy requires sharing, as you have done in your inspiring sermon. How to speak out, where to speak out and to whom to speak out are our questions. When the Holy Spirit moves within, trying to lead a Christ-like life so people can see “the nature of God through the quality of our life and love” is not longer enough. We are called to speak out, called to share.

  9. Ruth West on June 25, 2013 at 10:21

    This is a good inciteful sermon, Brother James. It stimulates me to listen to the prophets, ancient and modern. John praised and warned. He was totally unpretentious. How we need to be the same! May the Lord bless

  10. Pat Beamish on June 25, 2013 at 05:37

    What a wonderful perspective on poetry and language myth! Thank you, James!

  11. DLa Rue on June 25, 2013 at 05:15

    I’ll enjoy the wild honey.

    I think I’ll have to stop short of the locusts, though….

  12. Polly Chatfield on December 31, 2012 at 09:09

    Thank you so much, James, for helping me to see how important being prophetic is. We are called to sing out “There, look there”at the good and the compassionate as often as we can, even if we’re not doing too well at goodness and compassion ourselves. It’s a step, of a baby-step toward imitation.

  13. DLa Rue on December 31, 2012 at 08:50

    As a former rector of a nearby church used to be fond of proclaiming, “Prophecy isn’t fortune-telling: it isn’t telling the truth about the future. Prophecy is telling the truth about the present to those who aren’t paying attention.” (WMKenney, Christ Church Cambridge, c. 1970s-80s).

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