The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”
The holiday season is often presented as a time of extended family celebration. I don’t know what yours was like, but mine was not much to remember. My aunt, uncle, and two cousins would join us at my grandparents’ farm for a couple of hours. We’d open presents, eat Christmas dinner, then it was hugs and, “See you again next year.”
I always wanted a sort of “Christmas Cousins’ Camp,” but you can’t build much of a relationship or series of memories on two hours a year. It wasn’t until I was older and met the horde of my Arab cousins from my dad’s side that the word “cousin” came to feel more like “blood brothers.” From the moment we met, we were family and we were going to know everything about each other, call on each other, and defend each other.
This is the cultural world of John and Jesus. The first time these two cousins meet, the Holy Spirit stirs John in the water of the womb. The second time we see them together, the Holy Spirit settles on Jesus in the water of baptism.
So what about the thirty-year “cousin camp” in between? We saw how close their mothers were, so it’s probably safe to assume they spent at least some time together growing up. I picture them playing together, fighting each other, getting into mischief during family feasts, and other typical growing-up-together things.
Maybe they were “cousin’s camp” cousins or maybe they were “see you next year” cousins. Either way, they were blood family, so what does it mean that John had absolutely zero clue that his cousin was the Messiah?
They had to have spent time in Sabbath together, reading Scripture together, even talking about the prophecies of Isaiah they would quote back and forth later in the Gospels, right?
Even as John moved into his awkward “camel hair and locusts” prophet phase, telling everyone he was going to work to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, no one told him. Not. A. Clue.
Which can only lead to one possible conclusion: Mary never told anyone. Neither did Joseph, Elizabeth, or Zechariah. Jesus’ true identity was the family secret until the right time, and then it was up to God for the big reveal.
It’s the first time you hear Darth Vader say to Luke, “I am your father,” and your jaw drops open with, “NO WAY” kind of big. Because there’s John, who jumped with joy in utero over Jesus now jumping with joy on the shore, shouting, “I didn’t know he was the one” (v. 33).
God promised John’s father that his son would prepare the way of the Lord, and that’s what John grew up preparing for. But he had no clue that the Lord was as close as a cousin until the right moment.
There’s an encouragement in this story for those who are alone or feel the Lord is far away, especially during the holidays. You’ve been praying and praying and praying, working and working and working . . . all the while believing, “At some point I’m going to see the Lord.” That’s the family secret of Advent: a whole season of expectation in our hearts and lives for the arrival of the Lord, who is always closer to us than we can think or imagine.
Christ was born. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!
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