“Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,”‘” -John 1:22-23
Just a voice. These priests and Levites want to understand what authority John has. Is he the Messiah? Is he Elijah? Is he at least a prophet? But he claims none of those titles. No authority of his own at all. “I am a voice … crying out.”
Then what authority does John have? Why should we pay any attention at all? John claims that we should pay attention to him not because of him, but because of what—or more specifically who—he is crying out about, who he is speaking about. That is what makes him worth listening to. And actually, the whole gospel of John claims that authority—none on it’s very own, but rather because of what—or rather who—the whole gospel speaks about, or points to.
That can be kind of freeing for us. One need not ask “Well, who am I to_______?” and you can fill in the blank: forgive sins, tell people about Jesus, suggest that there is hope and good news … Well, you don’t have to be anything but a voice pointing to the only one worth pointing to: the light shining in the darkness, God with us, Jesus.
But here’s the thing I wonder … how often do we take that voice crying out seriously enough to pay attention? How often do we listen to the cry that calls us away from the cultural expectations surrounding us to hear the hurting, broken world that is crying out for repentance, healing, and redemption? How often do we hear that voice—of a child refugee in Sudan? of the person right next to us who is experiencing a hell we can hardly imagine? of those being destroyed by our economic system? of veterans coming back from war broken in ways that even they hardly understand? of those people treated like second class citizens in this country? How often do we hear that voice—and how often do we hear behind their cries in the wilderness the promise of God with us and the proclamation to “Make straight the way of the Lord!”