Advent Reflections: Following John the Baptist
[Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.]
By Paul, Gwenn, and Jessica Gebhard
Isaiah 5:13-17, 24-25
John the Baptist’s approach to ministry, as laid out in John 3:22-36, sets an important challenge for each of us during this Advent season—the challenge of understanding our mission as Christian, rather than congregational.
In the passage, John and his disciples are in the midst of a round of communal baptisms. One of John's disciples sees Jesus on the other side of the river, and is dismayed to see that Jesus is also performing baptisms. Worse, many of John’s potential converts are abandoning him to flock to Jesus. John’s disciple is agitated and alarmed on John’s behalf, as he believes that Jesus is poaching John’s potential parishioners, though Jesus himself was recent baptized by John.
In a modern context, Jesus’s ministry is “stealing” members and donations from John’s. A modern disciple would probably react in the same way as John’s did: with dismay.
John the Baptist, however, has a different view of the matter. The Bible tells us that John replied, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:29-30). John measures the success of his ministry not by the number of his own followers, but by the number following Jesus, whom he baptized. This presents us with a subtle challenge. Our congregation, like many others, measures the health and success of our ministry implicitly by membership totals and pledges and donations. But that is not John’s measure of success. For John, it is more important that he helped in a wider mission, not that his own personal mission be a particular success.
How do we meet John’s standard of selfless, humble evangelism?
As the church community of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church(NYAPC), we evangelize six days a week to the all the users of the church building each week—to all of the kids and tutors in community club, to the homeless in the Radcliffe Room ministry, to the several church and community groups that use our building and facilities. Our outreach to, and support of, ministries outside the city–whether in other parts of the United States, Cuba, or countries in Africa–is a ministry that does not directly generate new members or tithes for NYAPC. During this Advent season, we must remember that our interactions with the world around us give others a reason to consider Jesus and his message, and what it could mean for them. As was the case with John the Baptist, our individual actions are most important, as they benefit those we help and the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Prayer: We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. In water, your son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah. Through water, we are cleaned.
Paul, Gwenn, and Jessica Gebhard are members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.
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