John 1:6–8, 19–28 (NRSV)
Verse 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. Verse 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. Verse 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
Verse 19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" Verse 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." Verse 21And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." Verse 22Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" Verse 23He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,'" as the prophet Isaiah said. Verse 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. Verse 25They asked him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" Verse 26John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, Verse 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." Verse 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
John the Baptist is an enigma, and he has been from the beginning. “Who are you?” the delegation from Jerusalem asks. He is quick to say who he is not. He is not the Messiah, and he is not one of those persons expected by some as forerunner of the Messiah: he is not Elijah returned to earth, and he is not “the prophet” like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). Instead, John is the voice proclaiming the need for people to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. The message is more important than the identity of the messenger.
For us to “make straight the way of the Lord” is a matter of reflecting on the ways we live our lives. The way we conduct them can help or inhibit our relationship to God and to one another. Every day is a possible day for self-examination. Today we hear John the Baptist say that we should get on with it.
Good and gracious God, help us to gaze deeply into our lives, see our shortcomings, repent, and go forth in freedom and with gracious, loving conduct. Amen.