Decreasing My Importance

            Our text: John 3:30-31 – {John the Baptist says} “He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all.  He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way.  He who comes from heaven is above all.” (ESV)


Most calendars, whether it is a wall calendar or a daily desk one or even the ones on our phones, most calendars are loaded with a whole host of different kinds of holidays and birthdays of important and famous people.  Some of these different holiday and birthdays vary by state.  In Nebraska or even where I grew up in southwest Missouri, we never observed the birthday of Casimir Pulaski like most places in Illinois do on the first Monday of March.  Where only the people in Illinois get to celebrate this birthday, the majority of people across our nation get to celebrate federal birthdays of other people who have had made a large contribution to country.  Schools are closed, banks are closed, all the government offices are closed on birthdays of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, although those two are now combined into President’s Day.  One birthday holiday overlooked in the month of August which the whole nation should be shut down for is for the one and only holy Reverend Douglas E. Meyer.

When we look at the church calendar and the ancient tradition of the church … of all the important days, of all the days where people or events are recognized, there are only two birthdays listed.  The most well-known and the most important birthday of all is obviously the birth of … Jesus which we celebrate on Christmas.  The other birthday listed on the church calendar is usually just skipped right over without any thought or consideration made of it.  However, as we gather this morning, since today is the birthday of this important figure found in the beginning of three of the gospels, we will observe this less than familiar person.  Today is the birthday of the cousin of Jesus, today is the birthday of John the Baptist.

Now as I was preparing for this sermon and doing some reading in different books and articles, I found it interesting as to where the birthday of John the Baptist and Jesus fall in terms of the calendar which you and I use today.  I honestly think this is one of those things God secretly did.  Just a couple of days ago we lived through the literally the longest day of the year.  It wasn’t the longest because it was a Thursday, a day before the last day of the week.  It wasn’t the longest because of the various things which were going on in our lives.  This past Thursday was the longest because it was the day of the summer solstice.  So from June 21st moving forward, the amount of daylight will continue to get less and less and the amount of darkness will increase.  John the Baptist’s birthday is right by the summer solstice.  Jesus’ birthday which we celebrate at Christmas though is only a few days after the day which has the shortest day and the longest night.  The days following the winter solstice, the nights get shorter and the days get longer.

As we look at this, I want you to think about the life of these two men in correlation with the time of the year in which their births are observed.  John the Baptist’s birth is observed in the summer when the amount of sunlight is decreasing and Jesus’ birth is observed in the winter when the amount of sunlight is increasing.  It brings to my mind something which was said by John the Baptist, it brings to mind our text which I read earlier.

In latter part of John 3, John the Baptist is being questioned by his disciples as to why everyone is going away from him, why everyone is abandoning him to follow Jesus.  John repeats the message he had been preaching to those who came out to the wilderness to see him, to his disciples, that he is not the Christ but that the whole purpose of his life, which was proclaimed to Zechariah in the temple, was that he was sent before the Christ to tell others of his coming, to prepare them for Jesus.  And then John says this … “He {Jesus} must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  John the Baptist must decrease and Christ must increase.  How does this correlate with the calendar?  After the summer solstice, the summer daylight hours are decreasing, just as John the Baptist must decrease where after the winter solstice, the winter daylight hours are increasing, just as Jesus, the Light of the World born in the darkness of our sinful world must increase.

This recognition of needing to decrease though was not on the mind of John the Baptist’s dad, Zechariah.  If you remember the story, Zechariah is serving as a priest in the temple and as he was burning the incense an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John” (Luke 1:13).  In that moment for Zechariah, it wasn’t about what God could do, it was all about him, it was all about Zechariah.  Because Zechariah was making it all about himself and not trusting in God, Zechariah was punished in that he was not allowed to speak til the naming of his son, he was not allowed to speak for nine months.

Now here at the naming of John the Baptist in the Gospel lesson, where is Zechariah?  He’s not sitting next to Elizabeth holding John.  He’s nowhere near the center of attention, but instead he is in the background, in the shadows.  He is standing in the background so that the wonderful message of God which will come forth through John may be in the forefront.

Zechariah is in the background, just as you and I should be in the background of God’s ministry done through Christ.  Now I’m not saying … don’t be involved and do nothing.  That is not it.  We should be in the background because God’s plan of salvation is not about me, it isn’t about you, it isn’t about any of the things we do.  God’s plan of salvation is all about Christ!  It is all about that which Jesus did through his life, death, and resurrection!  It is all about what Jesus continues to do today through people like you and me.

The problem though, is that we don’t always make it to be about Jesus.  There are many times when you and I do something, we want some form of recognition.  We want an award, we want an announcement, we want a national holiday named after us.  When we don’t make it all about Jesus and we make it all about ourselves … are we increasing or decreasing my importance?

John the Baptist, throughout his whole ministry, is about re-directing everyone’s attention from him to Jesus.  He says in Mark’s gospel, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” (Mark 1:7).  John the Baptist says to Jesus when Jesus come to him to be baptized, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14).   Throughout his whole ministry, even to the point where John the Baptist literally gets his head chopped off and served on a silver platter, is all about re-directing the attention of the people from him to Jesus.  John knows he can’t save anyone.  John knows he can’t promise and guarantee that people will have eternal life.  Only Jesus can!  Only Jesus can save!  For as John says in John 3:31, “He who comes from above is above all.  He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way.  He who comes from heaven is above all.”  In other words, … Jesus, who comes down from heaven as the Son of God is above all.  He is above John, He is above me, He is above you.  He is above all things.

For John the Baptist, as well as for you and me, it is always about decreasing my importance so that as the light grows brighter and longer in the winter, the light of Christ shines brighter.  It isn’t about you or me, it isn’t about what we do … it is always to be about Christ.  And I’ll admit it, it is hard to not make it all about me.  It is hard to decrease my importance so that all my thoughts, words, and deeds are all about Christ.  But it is literally all about Christ and Him alone.  In Christ alone, through his brutal and vicious death on the cross, you and I are forgiven of our sins.  In Christ alone, through his victorious resurrection from the dead, you and I are saved and given the promise of eternal life.  In Christ alone, we live, not to our honor and glory but to Christ.

Like the decreasing daylight of the days moving forward to celebration of Christ’s birth, we like John, must decrease, so that the ever growing life and light of Jesus may shine forever to those around us.  Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in the light of the world, in Christ alone, now and forever.  Amen.