I love ping pong. Growing up, I had a table in my basement and at our neighborhood pool. I played a ton of table tennis as a teenager and got pretty good at it. All those reps serving, returning, lunging, and diving built up a significant amount of muscle memory. Not only was I a pretty good ping pong player, but I was pretty proud of how good I was. I loved taking on all challengers and quickly dispatching them.
That was until I was entirely and completely destroyed in one game. As you can imagine I was talking big and feeling strong. My opponent was quiet but happy to play. Within a couple of serves I knew I was in trouble. After loosing by double digits, I received some humble pie when my opponent did the most in your face thing ever – he was nice to me about it. In my experience competitive people are only nice when they play someone who they don’t think is very good. I encounter someone mightier than I (at ping pong).
In the gospel this Sunday, John the Baptist has collected a large, diverse group of followers. Each groups asks John how they are to behave. He answers with simple, clear directions. The gospel then says they were “asking in their hearts” about whether John was the Messiah. In other words, they wondered, but they didn’t ask anything out loud.
John is a prophet, so he answers the question the crowd isn’t asking. He says,”I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals…”
When we encounter someone mightier than us, we tend to have one of two reactions. Sometimes our defenses can raise. We can become antagonistic because someone is better than us. We can become resentful because we meet someone who outshines us. We can become indignant that someone out performs us on our turf. (Here is looking at you pharisees, scribes, temple officials.)
Or we can choose to be like John the Baptist. We can acknowledge the truth of the situation and recognize that our worth isn’t tied to our performance, but to the gift of sonship or daughter we’ve received from God through our baptism.
When it comes to encountering Jesus I think some of us even put up walls or are resentful. It is as if, we know Jesus is better than us and we can’t stand to fathom being near to him because we are self-conscience about how bad we look. We can be fearful that Jesus’ goodness will illuminate our badness. As sad as his reality is, I do believe some people react in this way to Jesus coming. (Here’s looking at you Herod.)
As we draw closer to Christmas and draw closer to Jesus coming to us in a unique way at the end of 2021, we have a choice. We can be like Herod or the Pharisees or we can be like John the Baptist. Will you welcome one mightier than you or deny him this Christmas?
Live It: Make a plan to welcome Jesus into your house and your heart this Christmas. With 2 weeks left, gather your family and make a plan for how Jesus is going to be the best thing about Christmas this year.