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December 3, 2011
Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Whatever we might think of his sense of style, John the Baptist must have been very charismatic -- people came from miles around to hear him. Everyone came. Ordinary people came. Even the scribes and pharisees came.

John is such an odd duck, and so combative, that it would be easy to overlook the fact that he is also an extraordinarily humble man. Not everyone would have been able to remain who he was in the face of such attention. Many of us might have started believing our own reputation: Hey, maybe I AM the Messiah! Many might have begun to contemplate a run for that office.

Not John. My importance will diminish now. The one whose coming I foretold has arrived now. I have done what I was supposed to do.

Forceful he was. But he was even more faithful. Part of the lore surrounding him is that he and Jesus are cousins, John the elder cousin, the one to whom deference might be due, the one who might expect his younger relative to yield to him -- and John expects nothing of the kind. He announces the exact opposite: He must increase, and I must decrease.

Most of us have a harder time with our own decrease. Our bodies fail us. Our work is better done by younger people. Your new supervisor is the age of your eldest child. There are near-misses at work; you become aware that replacing you with someone younger and cheaper looks attractive to management, and so you cling with some desperation, arriving earlier and staying later. You don't dare take a sick day. You cancel your vacation. You don't want them to experience what it would be like there without you -- it might give them ideas.

The quiet terror of this state makes us admire John all the more: he's absolutely on his way out. No doubt about it. And he doesn't cling, not at all. He faces into the strong wind of his own destruction and announces the new thing that will replace him.

I knew he was odd. But I didn't really know how brave he was.
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