Who Are You?
Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of the most complex questions that seems simple at first is: “Who are you?” It’s complex because there are so many answers we can give, and several of them true, but none of them fully complete. Do you define yourself primarily as a husband, wife, mother, father? Do you define who you are based on what you do for a living? Or your hobbies and interests? Where you grew up? Where you live now? Are you your socioeconomic status? Your ancestry? Are you what you eat, or what you read, or a summary of your thoughts and feelings? It seems a simple question, but it quickly becomes complex and hard to fully answer.
This is the question asked to John the Baptizer by the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem. Because John was gathering a religious following, they sent their own religious leaders, the priests and Levites, hoping for a meeting of the minds. So they began with this simple yet complicated question, “Who are you?” But John has a good idea where they’re going with line of questioning (he is a prophet, after all). He knows they’re not just asking out of curiosity or because they honestly want to understand what he’s doing. They’re asking because he’s shaking things up. He’s stirring up everyone in Jerusalem and Judea; and they’re not fans. So John the Baptist begins his answer by saying who he is not. “I am not the Christ,” he says point blank, getting that out of the way. We can imagine the messengers breathing a sigh of relief that this wild desert preacher isn’t the long-awaited Messiah. But now that that’s settled, they continue. He must be someone important, preaching and baptizing the way he does. “What then?” they ask, “Are you Elijah?” The prophet Malachi had foretold that Elijah would return before the Christ appeared. But John squelched that: “I am not.” They went down the line of suspects he could be. If he wasn’t Elijah, maybe he was the prophet Moses had foretold, the prophet that would be like Moses himself. They asked, “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” After they had run out of options and exhausted their own intellectual resources, when they were at wit’s end, they cried out, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. We know who you’re not. What do you say about yourself?” The Baptizer gave an answer: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” He quotes God’s Word, Scripture, about himself. John the Baptist is who God says he is.
And that, Christians, is the best place to learn who we are. It’s no secret that our society is having something of a crisis with the question of identity—who we are, or more precisely, who we say we are. But all those answers that we might give, that the world might tell us to give, no matter what they are, these all begin with what we say about ourselves. They begin and end with human thoughts about ourselves, just like the questions that were posed to John. At the very best, any identity we claim for ourselves will be the smallest sliver of answering who we are. At worst, it will lead us into dangerously narrow understandings of the marvelous creatures we were made to be. But the Lord does not desire this for us, so He sends John the Baptizer to show us a better, more perfect way.
Rather than come up with all sorts of labels that will lose their meaning or change yet again in a short time, instead find who you are in what God says about you. He says, “You are a sinner,” so you say, “I, a poor sinful being.” God says you are forgiven, fully and freely, so you say, “Amen. Yes, yes, it shall be so.” God says that you are His child, wearing the name He’s placed on you in Baptism, so you sing, “God’s own child, I gladly say it.” Christ says that you are a member of His body, the Church, so you confess that as you receive His body and blood, uniting yourself to Him and your fellow believers in Holy Communion. What you do and say is the same thing that God says about you. Your words about who you are come from God, who never changes, who never lies, who always sees the big picture. Who you are comes from the God who made you and saved you.
John the Baptist is who God says he is. You are who God says you are. John is the voice leading you to the Light. Jesus is the Light. And so that you would never lose that Light, God still sends voices to lead you back to Him constantly. Pastors, parents, teachers—all sent and authorized by God to lead you to His words about who you are in Him. All these are stations that God has called His people to be, so that they have the opportunity to speak the truth of God’s Word to you, in their times and places. In fact, after the service, the Lord will even see fit to put His words of Scripture and His praises into the mouths of children and infants as they lead you to the manger, repeating the words about the birth of our Lord, leading you in hymns and songs that express what Jesus’ birth has done for you—what His arrival in your life has made you to be.
Who are you? You are exactly who God says you are: a parent, a grandparent, an uncle, aunt, godmother, godfather, son, daughter, teacher, learner, husband, wife, friend, employer, employee, a fellow believer sitting beside other believers. But most importantly, you are what your Lord has called you in Baptism: a forgiven sinner, His beloved child that He will do anything for, marked for eternal life with His own name. You are the one He has come to save. In the name of Jesus, who names you. Amen.