I Am Not

I Am Not

Dear Friends,

They’re calling it V-Day across the pond. The “V” stands for “Vaccination,” and was celebrated on Tuesday in Coventry, England. The first life-giving needle stick was granted to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan; the second to 81-year-old William Shakespeare (not THAT William Shakespeare) from Warwickshire. Though all of Great Britain shouted a big “Woohoo!” at the news, health experts were quick to point out that though these first vaccinations are important and worth celebrating, the pandemic is not over. Not even for Margaret and William.

“This is an incredibly important moment on the march out of this pandemic,” said a health minister, “but we’ve still got a long march to go this winter.”

Sometimes it is as important to know what something is not as what it is.

If John the Baptizer’s message to us last Sunday was “not yet,” (Mark 1.1-8), this Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, he offers another negative assessment: “I am not.” (John 1.6-8,19-28)

Why the negative self-assessment? After all, John the Baptizer (JB) was many things: outspoken, poorly dressed, bombastic, quick-to-judge, eloquent in an edgy way.  He was almost as famous as the “one whose sandals I am unworthy to untie” whom we know as Jesus. Almost.

But people wanted JB to be something he was not. Cities and towns emptied as people ran to the Jordan River to check him out. “Maybe? Maybe its him?” they asked each other. But, no. He was not the vaccine against sin and darkness that so many had hoped. So, before they got their hopes up, JB had to tamp down the expectations: “I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah. I am not a Prophet.”

Then who the heck was he? He was a Voice. That’s all. Just a Voice, directing our attention to the only One who can cure our diseases, forgive our sins, and restore our hope. JB was only the first shot in the arm; Jesus is the cure.

You might be disappointed by JB’s humble self-assessment, but I find it refreshing. The pandemic has forced us all to face our limits, our failings, our inability to affect meaningful change for ourselves or others. And whether than punish ourselves for our powerlessness and weakness, we might do well to give thanks for all the things we are not.

Knowing our place, knowing who and what we are not is, in fact, a gift. We are relieved of the burden to always be strong, to always be right, to always see the way forward. That burden belongs to others. In the case of the pandemic, it belongs to the scientific researchers, policy makers and medical professionals whose life’s work is to save lives. That is not our responsibility. What is our responsibility, we who are not so many things? Ours is to be, like JB, only a Voice. A Voice—of kindness, of caution, of hope.

I was on the receiving end of some unpleasantness this week—a harried UPS customer, mask dangling under their chin, broke into the line (which extended out the door and down the sidewalk), arms filled with unwrapped packages. When they cut into the line I cleared my throat meaningfully, hoping to draw attention to me and my fellow customers, but the person sniffed at me, shouldered into the line and muttered, sotto voce, “Get over it.” Like you, I’ve been biting my tongue a lot lately, forcing myself to be patient with others, as I hope they would be patient with me. But this was almost too much. I could feel nine months of frustration and anger burbling into words. And had I launched at this clueless, selfish person, everyone in the line would have secretly cheered. But I quickly reminded myself of who I am not. I am not That Person—That Person who treats people like trash, who says whatever hurtful thing comes to mind, who cares nothing for the needs or lives of others. So, I swallowed my scathing judgment, my clever comebacks and withering wit, in order to not be all the things That Person was. And I waited a little longer to send my packages of good cheer to friends and family across the country.

I’m looking forward to that third Advent candle on Sunday—just a little more light in a dark world. Please join us for Worship, either by live zoom or by watching the recording later. Please stay on the screen after worship Sunday for a Vitality Talk, during which we will tell you more about our Advent Challenge with The Night Ministry.

Today I give thanks for Margaret and William, and for the thousands of others like them who have donned a mask, rolled up their sleeves and taken the (needle) plunge. We have been patient for a long nine months, and we are being asked to be patient a little longer. We can do that. Because, though the end of the pandemic is far away, the end has begun. But that first vaccination was not the answer to anything, only a hopeful hint.

This Advent “V” stands for Voice. JB’s Voice. Our Voices. Patient Voices lifted in praise of the One for whom all the world is waiting.

Blessed Advent,

Pastor JoAnn Post

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