O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Creator of the heavens,
who led the Magi by a star
to worship the Christ-child:
guide and sustain us,
that we may find our journey’s end
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in their maker;
let the children of Zion be joyful in their king.
Let them praise his name in the dance;
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and lyre.
For the Lord has pleasure in his people
and adorns the poor with salvation.
Let the faithful be joyful in glory;
let them rejoice in their ranks,
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized—John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.
Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.” 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 said: No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven; and: He must increase, but I must decrease.
Yesterday I spoke of the destructive nature of our very human sense of entitlement and self-importance. Today’s reading comes from a different gospel and a different moment in Jesus’ earthly ministry, but it carries a very similar message. Rather than leaving us to deduce that message from Jesus’ words to an anonymous leper, today John the Baptist is spelling it out in words of one syllable.
We live in a society that values and rewards hard work. We live in a society that celebrates skill and talent, and especially if it can be seen as having great financial worth. This level of societal acclamation makes us feel valued and of some worth to the community in which we live. However, it also leads us into the trap of self-congratulation. We become convinced by the dangerous philosophy of self-sufficiency. We become convinced that we can exist, and thrive, through our own wisdom and strength. Brick by brick we build a wall between ourselves and God.
In our reading John is approached by some who are concerned about his reputation and influence. They fear that John is being overshadowed by Jesus. They know that Jesus and his disciples are now offering baptism. They are afraid that John is being belittled and that his message is being diminished. However, John is not so self-possessed.
Throughout his short public ministry, John’s message was consistent. John knew that his role in the great divine narrative was to prepare the way for one greater than himself. John recognized that his role was a gift from God, he also recognized that there was no room for pride, self-congratulation or a sense of entitlement if he was to honour the task allotted to him by God himself. John also recognized and acknowledged the authenticity of Jesus’ ministry. Those who recognized Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, were blessed because no one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. There is great comfort in these words. If we remain faithful and humble as our relationship with Jesus develops, we too will be blessed.
In case we are tempted away from the true path, John also models for us the humility demanded of those who would not distance themselves from God. In worldly terms, John had been something of a success. Yes, his trademark scruffy demeanour and frugal lifestyle left something to be desired, but he had a great following. People had flocked from miles around to hear his teaching and to receive his baptism. Now he was being eclipsed by someone who seemed to be taking his message to another level, and who seemed to be able to do amazing things as well. Of course, John understood. John knew that Jesus was the Promised One of God, the one for whom he was preparing the way. Rather than arguing for recognition and status, John declared: He must increase, but I must decrease. In those words we are given the model for our own faith. As we allow ourselves to diminish we will come to know the joy and completeness of being one with God. We will shine out as bright lights in this darkened world. We will be the ones whose hands bring healing where there is so much hurt.
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray to God, our heavenly Father.
Sovereign Lord, your Son has revealed you as our heavenly Father,
from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.
You have made your Church a spiritual family, a household of faith. Through baptism we are reborn as the brothers and sisters of Christ. Deepen our unity and fellowship in him.
You sent your Son to give his life as a ransom for the whole human family. Give justice, peace and racial harmony to the world he died to save.
You gave your Son a share in the life of a family in Nazareth. Help us to value our families, to be thankful for them, and to live sensitively within them.
Your Son drew around him a company of friends. Bring love and joy to all who are alone. Help us all to find in the brothers and sisters of Christ a loving family.
You are the God of the dead as well as of the living. In confidence we remember those of the household of faith who have gone before us. Bring us with them to the joy of your home in heaven.
Prayer for the week
who by the light of a star
led wise men to Jesus:
by the light of your Word
lead us and all nations to him,
the Saviour of the world;
that together we may bring him our best gifts,
and pay homage to him as our King.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore.
Lord of all power, I give you my will,
in joyful obedience your tasks to fulfil.
Your bondage is freedom, your service is song,
and, held in your keeping, my weakness is strong.
Lord of all wisdom, I give you my mind,
rich truth that surpasses man’s knowledge to find.
What eye has not seen and what ear has not heard
is taught by your Spirit and shines from your word.
Lord of all bounty, I give you my heart;
I praise and adore you for all you impart:
your love to inspire me, your counsel to guide,
your presence to cheer me, whatever betide.
Lord of all being, I give you my all;
if e’er I disown you I stumble and fall;
but, sworn in glad service your word to obey,
I walk in your freedom to the end of the way.
Jack Copley Winslow (1882–1974)