In the Lectionary

December 17, Advent 3 (John 1:6–8, 19–28)

In the wilderness, trying to find joy can be like trying to make a fire with wet matches.

In the original greek of John 1, John the Baptist is described as a witness to the light: martyria. This word for “witness” gives rise to the English word martyr. When the religious leaders come to interrogate John in Bethany, John doesn’t yet have his head on a plate. But he bears witness to Jesus from his first appearance in John’s Gospel.

In this Bethany scene, John’s story comes ahead of his cousin Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has not yet gained notoriety. Jesus is born, but he is still waiting in the wings.

When the religious leaders ask John who he is, he tells the truth. He’s not Elijah. He’s not the messiah. John is not a reprise of that which has already happened: Elijah’s time prophesying on earth. John is also not that which is yet to come: Jesus’ ministry and redemption of humankind. John is in the space between the already and the not yet. The prologue of the Gospel of John even seems to pause each time it refers to John the Baptist. Even textually, his ministry is liminal.