A Humble Witness 3rd Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 Dec. 13, 2020 John 1:6-8, 19-28
There’s a movie that I like to watch every February. It stars Bill Murray, and it’s called Groundhog Day. He plays a hotshot weatherman with a “big future,” but he got stuck re-living the same day, over and over again, until he was able to //:release his sense of self-importance and begin to care about the people around him.:\\ Gradually, he became more humble, he gained more of his true self, and he was able to have real relationships.
He learned a deep truth: Letting go of self-centeredness allows us to become our BEST selves! It’s only when we discover that we are not the center of the universe that we are able to have a deep relationship with the One who is! We remember that Jesus told his disciples (including you and me), “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” In order to follow Jesus, you and I must deny ourselves—which means letting go of self-centeredness.
Our scripture texts for today illustrate this Biblical truth: //:As we humble ourselves and seek GOD’s way, we will experience the glory of God as it replaces our own meager sense of self!:\\ What an exciting promise to hear on this Third Sunday of Advent—experiencing the glory of God! (This is what the angels were singing about—within the hearing of a group of humble shepherds!)
A Call to Humility
The first thing that stands out to me as I read these texts is that we are being called to humility. We are called as the Body of Christ, and we are called as individual followers of Christ.
The Body: 2 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Our greatness has been directly proportionate to our humility—expressed in a thousand ways in our history. But today’s greed and self-centeredness is both rampant and destructive! We have been humbled—which is a good thing, even if it is distressing. Fortunately, we have a solid foundation on which to build, and I trust that God is using these difficult times to develop in us a new greatness!
Individual Christians: in Matthew 11, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” He also said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Paul took it a step further in his letter to the church in Philippi. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” He urges us to be like Jesus, who was ready to let go of his status and become a human; who humbled himself and became obedient to death; and who is the one whom God has exalted to the highest place!
A Humble Witness
The main character in our Gospel lesson today is a man called John. We know quite a bit about this man, and the signs of greatness were all there:
- His birth to aging parents was nothing short of miraculous;
- An angel had promised his father, “Many will rejoice because of his birth, and he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”
- When John appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance, people flocked to him!
But John was a man who lived in true humility. He said, “One who is more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals.” In our reading, we get a glimpse of a time when he had an opportunity to “Be Somebody.” The religious authorities from Jerusalem came out to him and asked, “Who are you?” And his response was to say that he was NOT the Messiah. So they asked, “Are you Elijah?” (This seems like an odd question, but remember: The prophet Elijah did not die, but was swept up in a chariot of fire. Because of this, he was expected to return one day.) So, even though John came in the spirit and power of Elijah, when they asked, “Are you Elijah?” His response was, “I am not.”
“Are you the prophet?” “No.” “Then who are you?!”
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”
And then John pointed to Jesus. He knew that his own true greatness was in humble service. John knew that his function was to prepare people for the coming ministry of Jesus! And, because of his work of preparation, multitudes of people truly heard Jesus.
A Call to Greatness
Friends, I have been going on and on about humble service and humility. But now I’d like to explore a different facet of these texts—what I would call “a call to greatness.” How would you feel if I insisted that YOU have been called to greatness? You might say, “Oh, no, not I—you must be wrong. I’m too ______ to ever be great.” I bet you could easily fill in the blank with some limiting word or phrase that has been imposed on you. I’m too simple to ever be great. I’m too old to be great. I’m too stressed, I’m too busy, I’m too ordinary to ever imagine being great.
I’m struck by a beautiful phrase in James, chapter 4. It says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” I need to warn you against what I would call “false humility.” Being humble does NOT mean denigrating the gifts God has given you! Instead, you and I need to see our God-given gifts in their proper perspective—as tools to serve God and to bring joy to others. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, AND GOD WILL LIFT YOU UP!! God will exalt you, will make you great!
When we consider the person of Jesus, we see both humility and greatness.
- His birth was in the humblest of homes—but it was attended by a chorus of angels, eager shepherds, and Magi from the east bearing expensive gifts.
- His time of temptation in the desert gave him opportunities to elevate himself, to choose his own glory, to use his gifts for his own self-promotion. But he chose God’s way.
- Jesus humbled himself, died, was resurrected, and was raised to glory! The Apostles’ Creed says, “And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty.”
- Paul writes to the Philippians that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
- Jesus exhibited true greatness in humble service.
I would like to finish with a story I just discovered this morning:
(see part 2, entitled “In 1979”)
Dec. 13, 2020
Sermon, Part II
In 1979, I was managing a Wendy’s in Port Richey, Florida. Unlike today, staffing was never a real problem, but I was searching for someone to work three hours a day, only at lunch. I went through all my applications and most were looking for full time, or at least 20 hours per week. I found one, however, buried at the bottom of a four-inch stack that was only looking for lunch part-time. His name was Nicky. I hadn’t met him, but I thought I would give him a call and see if he could stop by for an interview. When I called, he wasn’t in, but his mom said she would make sure he would be there.
At the appointed time, Nicky walked in. One of those moments when my heart went into my throat. Nicky suffered from Down Syndrome. His physical appearance was a giveaway, and his speech only reinforced the obvious.
I was young and sheltered. I had never interacted on a professional level with a developmentally disabled person. I had no clue what to do, so I went ahead and interviewed him. He was a wonderful young man. Great outlook. Task-focused. Excited to be alive. For reasons only God knew at that time, I hired him. 3 hours a day, 3 days a week to work at the grill.
I let the staff know what to expect. Predictably, the crew made sure I got the message that “no one wants to work with a retard.” To this day, I find that word offensive! We had a crew meeting, cleared the air, and prepared for his arrival.
Nicky showed up for work right on time. He was so excited to be working. He stood at the time clock literally shaking with anticipation. He clocked in and started his training. He couldn’t multi-task, but he was a machine on the grill.
Now for the fascinating part: Back in that day, there were no computer screens to work from. Every order was called by the cashier. It required a great deal of concentration on the part of all production staff to get the order right. While Nicky was training during his first shift, the sandwich maker next to him asked the grillman/trainer what was on the next sandwich. Nicky replied, “Single, no pickle, no onion.” A few minutes later it happened again. It was then that we discovered that Nicky had a hidden and valuable skill. He memorized everything he heard! “Photographic hearing.” WHAT A SKILLSET! It only took 3 days, and every sandwich maker requested to work with Nicky. He was immediately accepted by the entire crew.
After his shift, he would join the rest of his crew family, drinking Coke like it was water! It was then that they discovered another Rainman-esque trait. Nicky was a walking/talking perpetual calendar. They would sit for hours, asking him what day of the week was December 22, 1847. He never missed. This uncanny trait mesmerized the crew.
His mom would come in at 2 to pick him up. More times than not, the crew would be back there with him hamming it up. As I went to get him from the back, his mom said something I will never forget.
“Let him stay there as long as he wants. He has never been accepted anywhere like he has been here.” I excused myself and dried my eyes, humbled and broken-hearted at the lesson I had just learned.
Nicky had a profound impact on that store. His presence changed a lot of people. Today I believe with every fiber of my body that Nicky’s hiring was no accident. God’s timing and will are perfect.
This Christmas, I hope we all understand what we are celebrating. We are all like Nicky. We each have our shortcomings. We each have our strong points. But we are all of value. God made us that way, and God doesn’t make mistakes. Nicky certainly wasn’t a mistake. He was a valuable gift that I am forever grateful for.