It is very natural to be self-centered. It is also very dangerous. When God created the angels, they were all very good. Then one of the angels became self-centered and rebelled against God. This angel lost his place among the angel host and became the devil. He is self-centered and therefore hates God with all his being.
Soon after the rebellion of the evil angels, the devil successfully tempted Adam and Eve to be self-centered. The devil could not attack God directly and so he attacked the people that God loved. They took their eyes off God and focused on themselves. They became self-centered and passed their self-centered nature on to their descendants.
Humans have been naturally self-centered ever since. It takes a miracle of the Holy Spirit to restore our nature to the God-centered state of the original creation.
If anyone should have been tempted to be self-centered, it was John the Baptizer. Historians of the period don't know exactly how many people John baptized, but they all agree the number exceeded one hundred thousand. That is a pretty sizable following.
He was such a force in Judea that the Jewish authorities decided to send two delegations to investigate this phenomenon. One of the delegations came directly from the ruling council and the other delegation came from the Pharisees. They wanted to know who John was, what he was teaching, and so forth.
Apparently, these investigating committees were not unusual. In Acts 5, Gamaliel mentions two other popular leaders who rose up and claimed to be somebody. It seems that every so often someone would come forward and claim to be the Messiah. It was the duty of the Religious leaders to investigate these movements and determine if they were true or false.
The Evangelist Luke tells us that the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ. So John began the interview by saying, "I am not the Christ." The delegation questioned him more about Elijah and the prophet with no results. Finally they ask him to explain himself. It is here that John tells them he is the forerunner of Christ, "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'"
It is a tribute to the power of the Holy Spirit that John did not revert to his sinful, self-centered nature and use his immense popularity to create some sort of political power structure. The Evangelist who recorded this event emphasized this as he related John's response. [John] confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." John didn't even hesitate, but freely answered the delegations' inquiries.
If John was not self-centered, where did his focus lie? Who or what got his attention?
Our Gospel tells us the John witnessed to the light. That was what God sent him to do. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. But what is the light?
The world has many lights. Some would say that any good moral guideline can be the light. They say that the Bible is one of many great lights in the world, but that the Koran, the sayings of Confucius, the teachings of the Buddha, the Hindu scriptures, and any other moral guideline are also great lights. The world teaches that in the end, all these writings are merely symbols of Divine Will, Law, or Revelation. They are all the same.
The problem is that when the world looks for the light, it looks for something that changes behavior. The world is looking for 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day, or something that gives them a life of purpose. The world is looking for a way to earn salvation or at least make a significant contribution to it. So when the world looks for the light, it looks for a set of moral guidelines - a set of laws.
If laws are all you want, all the great religious writings are pretty much all the same. The Torah, Koran, Vada, and so forth all encourage us to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Of course, so does the Boy Scout Law. If we are to work our way into heaven, pretty much any decent set of moral guidelines will do.
There is only one problem. Living according to any decent moral code is impossible. When we try to live according to the world's great lights - the moral guidelines that seem great in this world - all we see is failure. These moral guidelines only serve to judge and condemn. They are impossible to keep. When we are brutally honest with ourselves, we must admit that we can't live up to any decent set of moral guidelines. The Boy Scout Law is a tremendous set of characteristics for anyone to aspire to, but what happens when we mess up. What happens if we have a day when we aren't so friendly, kind or obedient? What do these worldly lights say then?
Most of these great lights say try harder. Keep practicing until you get it right. Solve the impossible problem by continually trying to solve the impossible problem. Even if it were possible to work our way up to leading a perfect life, what about the crimes of our past? How do we pay them off? Even if we could make it perfect with practice, what about our past crimes against the great lights of morality? The fact of the matter is that the great lights of the world do nothing but illuminate our failures and show us the punishment that we deserve.
All the responses to the condemnation of the great lights of the world eventually fall into two basic categories. One is to lie to ourselves and deceive ourselves into thinking that we actually are keeping the moral code. The other is to sink into a pit of despair because we realize we can't keep any moral code and are doomed for eternity. If we are self righteous we focus on the deception of our own righteousness. If we are in despair, we focus on our own despair. In either case, we focus on ourselves. In either case, the great moral codes of this world will only serve to condemn us when we leave this world and stand before our maker.
John the Baptizer was proclaiming a different kind of light. The verses that lead up to today's Gospel provide the context. [John 1:1 -5] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The light John the Baptizer proclaimed was not of this world, but was actually the creator of it. He is the source of life and light. He is a different kind of Word. He is not a set of moral codes, but a flesh and blood savior. He did not come to give us more laws. Instead He came to keep the laws perfectly - for us. He did not come to condemn our failure. Instead, He came to take our failure on Himself and pay the penalty in our place. Jesus Christ is the light that no darkness can overcome. Jesus Christ is the focus of John's proclamation.
Jesus Christ is God of God, light of light, very God of Very God. Jesus is the third option. All the great lights of this world condemn us, but only Jesus saves us. We need not deceive ourselves into believing that we can keep a moral code. We need not despair that we are doomed for eternity. Instead, Jesus Christ, the true light, offers us forgiveness, life, and salvation.
John proclaimed that the light of eternity stepped into time. He had taken on human nature and grown up just like any other man except without sin. No wonder that John was not worthy to loosen the straps of His sandals.
Never the less, the light incarnate submitted to the shame of the cross for us. He submitted to the punishment of our sins. The light entered the darkness of death and the grave. Yet the dark could not overcome it. The light incarnate, true God and true man, rose from the darkness of death.
This is the light that John proclaimed. This was the focus of John's message. John did not proclaim how to make you a better you. He did not proclaim a life of purpose. John proclaimed the light. He focused on Jesus Christ, the true and only light of salvation.
The lights of this world force us to be self-centered. We will either focus on our own deceptive self-righteousness or we will focus on our own failure and go into despair. In either case self-centeredness leads only to condemnation.
John the Baptizer proclaimed a different focus - a focus on the only great light who can save us. John urges us to repent of our self-centered focus and he offers us the true light instead. He offers us the light that is the life. He offers us Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the light of our salvation. He is the light that no darkness can overcome. Amen
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