Summary: John the Baptist knew who he was not and who he was, and accepted his task of pointing to Christ. Our mistakes are imagining that we are more than we are, or that we are less than we are. The real task is: just point to the light.
My son and his wife live in a five-level townhouse in Reston, Virginia. You enter into a kind of combination corridor and stairwell at the second level. Typically I turn right when I arrive and go into the kitchen area. But when I leave that level to go to another one, I walk out of that kitchen and into that corridor and get a jolt. I get a shock. Every single time.
And why? Because just across from the kitchen door but a little offset from it they have placed a floor-to-ceiling mirror. The intent is to bring more light into that area so that the stairs can be seen more easily. The intent is to increase the light that already comes from other sources. That’s the intent.
But what happens is that I walk out of that kitchen door, angle toward that mirror, somehow thinking that there is more space there, and I get a jolt and a shock because what confronts me is me! My image, life-size, coming right at me where somehow my eyes and my brains have told me there is more space than there really is. Every time I go there the same thing happens; and if you tell me that the definition of stupidity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, well, then, I plead guilty to stupidity. I cannot get it into my thick skull, when I leave my son’s kitchen, that that space across from me is not space and that that fellow coming at me is only me, my image. Somehow I cannot remember that it was all done simply to bring in more light.
There are some important lessons to be learned from my son’s hallway mirror. There are some lessons about who we are, who we are not, and what it means to point to the light.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
The old artists used to paint John the Baptist with an extra-long forefinger, just right for pointing. Just before Jesus began His public ministry, John began directing others to Him who would be the light of the world. John did not pretend to be that light, he did not pose as the truth that others needed to know. He pointed to the light, nothing more and nothing less. John did not confuse his own image with the real thing, and yet he also did not hold back from doing what he was meant to do, to point to the light.
Our culture is very success-oriented. We prize those who make it big, even when they are the ones telling us they are larger than life. We think highly of those who achieve prominence and then hire public relations people to puff that prominence. Among preachers, we even have a mock Scripture reference to justify self-promotion; have you ever heard of Hezekiah 1:1, which reads, “Whosoever tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted?”
We seem to value giant egos. But we are like me, bumping into my own image across the corridor, frightened out of my wits for a split second, because I have been exposed as phony by that which points to the light. We need to learn from John, who is not the light but who is pointing to the light. We need to learn who we are and who we are not; but we can still point to the light.
You see, the first mistake my mind makes when I head for that glossy glass is to assume there is some space there that is not really there. The mirror creates the illusion of depth, and I am suckered in and walk straight at it, when I should be following a much narrower path. Stupid as it sounds, I cannot keep it in my mind that the corridor is only about four feet wide and not some kind of superhighway. So I plunge across the hall toward what I think is a large space until, that is, it dawns on me that I cannot do that. I must go as the path dictates and as the light shines, and not as I suppose I want to go. Something is there that points to the light, and I need to follow that and not the illusion of a large space.
John the Baptist, from the days of his childhood, was meant to do this ministry of pointing. His birth is told in Luke’s Gospel with just as much of the mysterious and the miraculous about it as is the story of the birth of Jesus. John was no accident, and he knew it. But John also knew that he was not the Christ, he was not the one for whom the world had been waiting, he was not that light. John had learned just to do what God had intended him to do, to point to the light, and not try to be something else.