- Advent 4.18 “Peak You” Luke 1:39-56
I think every one of us has a peak in life, a time when we’re at our very best—when the world’s at it’s best, when everything just fits, when life is truly good. For some people, “peak you” lasts for years, others just months, or even moments. For some it’s childhood, college years, the first years of marriage, or some just look forward to retirement and grandkids. It’s why nostalgia in all forms is so popular and saleable for Hollywood. Looking back to a golden age when things were better, when we were better, whether it’s our own past or the distant past of our world: 6th century Constantinople, 16th century Wittenberg, the Victorian Age, WWII, enchants lots of us. Others look to the future, the sci-fi buffs, for the Golden Age whether it’s the end of Skynet, the return of Jedi, or the advent of the Zombie Apocalypse (a personal favorite!).
Last week we saw John the Baptist not at his personal peak, not at his very best. We saw him wavering, wondering if Jesus could really be the Christ, leaving His moral crusading sidekick languishing in prison, facing certain execution. Dark days for Baptists, you might say. Certainly not “peak John”.
Today though, we see John in his own personal “golden age”. This is John at the pinnacle, perfectly fulfilling his life’s work as a prophet and messenger of the Christ. He is a perfect conduit for the Word Mary brings, and he kind of magnifies it, intensifies a wonderful moment. John is the means by which all are filled with Holy Spirit, with the Word, faith, joy, eternal life, inspiring Mary’s marvelous Magnificat. A tremendous time, by any one’s reckoning.
The only problem was it happened 3 months before John was even born, when lots of people would say he wasn’t even a person yet and had no human rights, thoughts, or personality. When you couldn’t even see him, because they didn’t have ultrasounds back then, I don’t think? It was easy to miss “peak John the Baptist” especially today, insofar as we share the modern world’s contempt for the least, littlest of God’s Kingdom—noticeable in our war on the unborn. Even in John’s day, few thought children, infants, or the unborn were worth much, capable of much. So we miss a wonderful moment, the peak of John’s prophetic ministry.
Generally (in our world) it’s a bad idea to peak too soon. Being at your best in pee-wee football, dominating the league then is not going to get you a lucrative shoe contract or commercial time for State Farm. Peaking in college isn’t even a great idea as we see with all those Heisman Trophy washouts that never make it in the NFL. There are few inspiring Hollywood stories about people who peaked at age 7 and then had a long, slow decline. No one buys a ticket to watch that. We want to see our heroes flash early promise, then experience great struggle, maybe sit on the bench at Michigan as a 3rd string quarterback all through college, get drafted as an afterthought by the Patriots, and only get a shot when the veteran QB for a woeful franchise gets hurt and it’s you or nothing. But you shine, work hard, win Super Bowls. And when you’re only getting better around age 40, having your best years when most are retired, well, your bank account will be very fat, and your model wife will be very slim and trim. Just ask Tom Brady…
John the Baptist’s story arc is the exact opposite of Tom Brady’s. He peaked in the womb 3 months before birth! Oh, true, John also flashed moments of brilliance around his age 30 season. Attracted crowds enjoyed 15 minutes of fame. But his best sermon was the first one he gave in div school chapel. He ended badly. The League suspended him, he did jail time, and got his head chopped off for being really annoying before he even saw 33. He even prophesied his own decline when everyone was leaving him to chase after his more intriguing cousin, Jesus of Nazareth. When his own disciples asked him if this bothered him, John said, of Jesus: “He must increase and I must decrease.” And boy, oh boy, did that ever go down just the way John said! And last week we heard just before the end how John didn’t take it as stoically and strong as some expected he should have…
So, I like how today, in our lectionary, our last glimpse of John is his peak moment, not the shaky last days, but the glorious first days. I think seeing why this was “peak John” can go a long way to helping us see what “peak you” might look like. Maybe it can even change what we hope and aspire to be?
It would have been tough for this not to be a good day. Mary has just had her meeting with Gabriel, the angel who announced she would be the Mother of God, the bearer of the eternal word, Christ Jesus the Savior of the world, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Pretty exciting news! Life-changing. For everyone! But John is the one in the story who really makes it pop, through whom it goes from being just good news for Mary and Elizabeth and friends to Good News of great joy, glad tidings which shall be to all people, which we’ll hear more about on Christmas.
Mary races to her cousin Elizabeth’s place in the hill country of Judah where her husband Zacharias was a priest, strangely struck mute around the time Elizabeth discovered she was pregnant. We don’t hear from him. But, as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the babe (John) leaped in her womb and she too was filled with the Holy Spirit and before Mary could apparently utter a word, Elizabeth (with a joyful shout) proclaims the good news: “Blessed are you among women! And blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy [he let me know!] blessed is she who believed for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
I want you to absorb this: John is already doing his prophet thing 3 months before birth!!?? He fills his mother with the Holy Spirit, and reveals to her the shocking news Mary got from the angel that her child is the Son of God, Savior of the world. Through John, Word of the Word has its full impact before Mary utters more than “Hey!”. I think it’s important to note that infants and the unborn are not only capable of faith but capable of being conduits for the Word Himself by which the Holy Spirit works faith, forgiveness, eternal life and joy. Moms: the Word of God that came in through your ears while your children were still in your womb is powerful, active, divine! Marvel at that!
Mary’s Magnificat of the great things God has done for her, for us, by her Son: exalting the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, sending the rich empty away, keeping faith with Abraham and his Seed forever—this all comes through John!
“Peak John” occurred when he was simply a conduit for God’s Word and Spirit. And this is “peak you”: when you’re most simply a conduit for Christ—when He increases and you decrease, when He is not just an important thing, but everything to you, when His universe expands to fill every corner of your being. Paradoxically, when you’re most Him is when you’re most you—the you God always willed you to be. “Peak you” is a gift by Word, Sacrament and it’s not for a moment, but for life, forever, so Peace surpassing understanding will guard heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.