John answered them all saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16, ESV)
If there’s one thing we Americans believe in, it’s equality. It’s in our founding creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .” We may not always live up to it, but our ideal is that every person stands equal with every other. It’s why we’ve always rejected European notions of nobility and aristocracy. Americans don’t bow or curtsy, even to those in high office. We hold our heads up, side-by-side, as equals. So, if I may be so bold, there’s something distinctly un-American about the gospel.
The Christ whose birth we celebrate at Christmas comes to us humbly as one of us, but emphatically not as our equal. He is infinitely more graceful, more powerful, more worthy than we are. Next to him, well, we’re not worthy to stoop down and tie his shoes. John the Baptist got this right, and so must we if we would prepare for Christ’s coming. John wasn’t putting himself down, he was lifting Christ up as he who is mightier than I.
To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, the difference between Jesus and John the Baptist was the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug. John baptized with water, and it was powerful. But John prophesied of Jesus: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” And the great surprise of the gospel is that He will give his Holy Spirit not to the high and mighty, but to the lowly and humble who will receive Him. It’s as if the King stopped his carriage to get out and embrace street urchins and say, “You are my lost children. I will fill you with my spirit. Come and live with me.” The coming of Christ is our coming into true manhood and womanhood, children of our heavenly Father through the indwelling of His Spirit.
Come, Lord Jesus! You are mightier than I, so far above me that I am not worthy to stoop down and untie your sandals. Yet, you have come low to serve me, and even to wash my feet. Humble my proud heart, Lord Jesus, that I might welcome you and receive your Holy Spirit. Show me how you are at work in the world so that I might serve you better. Show yourself to me in your written Word. Amen.