Advent 2: He Must Increase, I Must Decrease
Lectionary Readings for December 9, 2012: Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
Advent Calendar (Cycle C) and guidance for using the lectionary
The lectionary readings for this second Sunday in Advent tell the story of John the Baptist. The prophet Malachi describes him as the “messenger of the covenant,” the one sent to prepare the way for the coming Messiah (Malachi 3:1). The first Gospel reading is the passionate prayer recited by John’s father, Zechariah, at the birth of his son (Luke 1:68-79). The second Gospel reading depicts John fulfilling the ministry he was called to do:
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Luke 3:3-4).
It’s ironic that John the Baptist is the focus of our readings this week because throughout his life, John did everything he could not to be the center of attention. Instead of amassing a huge following or building a name for himself, John’s mission in life was to point people to the Savior. “I baptize you with water,” he proclaimed. “But he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” (Matthew 3:11). The most self-effacing words ever spoken by a human being were uttered by John in deference to Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
While John epitomizes the selfless servant, Paul models servant leadership in our Epistle reading for this week. To the Christians at Philippi he writes: I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you…For God is my witness how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:3-4, 8).
Paul loved his people deeply and with great compassion. Genuinely concerned about their spiritual welfare, he constantly prayed for those under his care.
Heed the Call
Both John and Paul are calling us to make a clean break from the self-centeredness and narcissism that characterizes our consumeristic culture, especially around Christmas. I, for one, need to heed the call. I’m embarrassed to admit that, in a season where Christ should naturally increase in me, I am once again caught up in the busyness of it all. We’re only two weeks into Advent and I’ve already expended more energy preparing programs and music for Christmas services than preparing my own heart and soul for the coming of the King.
Even worse, my self-centeredness is in full bloom. I’ve spent more time researching the best prices for what I want for Christmas than thinking about what I’m getting others or how I’m going to serve people. And I certainly can’t claim that I’ve been praying for those in my care with the fervency that Paul exemplified.
How about you? Is Jesus increasing in you this Advent season? Are you experiencing greater intimacy with the Lord these days? Have your thoughts, words, and actions revealed more Christlikeness this week or more of your false self? Are you attuned to the needs of others or preoccupied with your own concerns?
The Power of Worship
Over the years, I’ve found that practicing worship, whether privately or corporately, always helps me move from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness. What often gets lost in the Christmas story is the fact that the main characters were passionate worshipers. Zechariah became mute until the birth of his son and at that moment, the first words out of his mouth formed a litany of praise: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:68-69).
We invite you to join us in delving deeper into worship this Advent season. Read through the book of Psalms. Sing or play your favorite hymns or worship songs alongside (or in place of) those Christmas carols you usually enjoy. Choose a name or attribute of God that has been especially meaningful to you and meditate on it. Or name an attribute of God that you and your family have experienced most often this past year and give thanks. Also, try injecting more worship into your prayer life, especially those family meal time prayers. Tell the Lord you love him, that you’re grateful for all he’s done and continues to do in your life. Remind yourself how truly great and awesome our God is. Take time to ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name (Psalm 29:2).
A Breath Prayer for Advent
One final suggestion: let’s make the words of John the Baptist a statement of our intent this Advent season: “He must increase; I must decrease.” You might even want to adopt that simple phrase as your breath prayer for Advent: Increase in me, Jesus. I’ve decided to pray those words every morning this month and as the Lord brings them to mind. Join me if you feel so led.
More than a pithy statement, may this prayer reflect how we long to live our lives. May Jesus increase in us to such depth that he touches us at our point of greatest need, heals our brokenness, and transforms our characters. A month from now, don’t ask me what I got for Christmas, but whether Jesus got all of me this Christmas.
Lord God, I invite you to increase your son, Jesus, in me. Through your Holy Spirit, cause my thoughts, emotions, choices, words, and actions to radiantly reflect Christ alive in me. Rid me of my selfishness and self-centeredness and bless me with an increasing capacity to give the truest gifts of the season–unconditional love, a sincere forgiveness, and a deep compassion for others. Amen.
©Rory Noland, 2012.
Rory Noland serves as worship leader and song-writer for the Transforming Center. He is director of Heart of the Artist Ministries and served for twenty years as music director at Willow Creek Community Church. He is the author of Heart of the Artist, Thriving as an Artist in the Church, The Worshiping Artist, and Worship on Earth as it is in Heaven (Zondervan).
How will you incorporate more worship into your Advent season?
Leave a comment below and/or follow us on Twitter (@transformingcnt) and join the conversation.
Join thousands of pastors and spiritual leaders
Receive Beyond Words®, reflections on the soul of leadership. Written by Ruth Haley Barton, each reflection provides spiritual guidance and encouragement for those seeking to be in God for the world.