A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
This is how John appeared as a witness.
When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he not only declared,
but he declared quite openly,
‘I am not the Christ.’ ‘Well then,’ they asked
‘are you Elijah?’ ‘I am not’ he said.
‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’
So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We must take back an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?’ So John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied:
a voice that cries in the wilderness:
Make a straight way for the Lord.’
Now these men had been sent by the Pharisees, and they put this further question to him, ‘Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the prophet?’ John replied, ‘I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.’ This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.
Perhaps it is something in the delivery. After the energising, immediacy of Mark's Gospel beginning last week, here we listen to something that has the repetition of a legal argument. Not the typical poetic stanzas of John but the deliberate reworking of the same declaration - I am not the one.
John was impressive though. A rebel with a cause, turning his back on the priestly clan he was born into to become a desert wanderer, a prophet, a witness. Raging at the walls of Herod's palace or rejecting the rituals of the Temple, John has something 'superhuman' about him. No-one is out to kill him - yet. Or even silence him. John, in an Old Testament, 'change or else' sort of way, makes sense. One of God's own angels, a messenger filled with the Spirit, showing signs that the people were waiting for.
There is something in the priests and Levites questioning that suggests that if John had answered 'yes' he would have been believed.
John knows better. Knows that, not only is he not the one, he is less than a slave compared to him. Clearly, given Jesus' view on service, John has no sense of who he is setting the scene for. And nor should he. All those old titles have been stood up, used up and often given up.
It's been a while since I used a movie in a reflection. The latest science fiction epic 'Interstellar' is awash in metaphor that could speak about courage and trust, love and uncertainty, metaphors of Advent itself. There is a phrase used more than once to justify both journey and sacrifice - Newton's Third Law - that to move forward always means that you leave something behind. John knows he is going to be left behind. John and the rest of the prophetic world that the Pharisees, the priests and the Levites believe that they are in control of. John is willing to make the sacrifice, to break through the ties himself, if need be, to make the way straight for the Lord.
'Interstellar' portrays an experience of a new universe with five dimensions where humanity will, one day, exist. John's mission is to be a witness to a world that does not yet exist. The Incarnation is also revelation. The Gospel writer, John, has reminded us that Jesus is the Word. The Divine that holds all dimensions in creative tension. In Jesus, the Divine enters the world enfleshed. And not riding on clouds of thunder but from the belly of a woman. A helpless child, filled with the Spirit, born of Love. A Light that will answer all questions and overcome all doubt.