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Pastor Glenn McDonald: The Shortest Day of the Year


What does it mean to be a star – a top performer, prime achiever, or superstar athlete?


We live in a culture that is no longer surprised when talented people go to great lengths to advertise their own genius.


Consider the philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, who chose these chapter titles for his book Ecce Homo: “Why I Am So Wise,” “Why I Am So Clever,” and “Why I Write Such Good Books.” Nothing subtle there.


Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who was selected first overall by the New York Jets in the 1996 NFL draft, was once asked to compare himself to a receiver on another team. “You’re trying to compare a flashlight to a star,” he replied. “A flashlight only lasts so long. A star is in the sky forever.”


When asked if he was a team player, Johnson asserted, “I am a team player, but I am an individual first. I have to be the number one guy with the football. Not number two or number three. If I’m not the number one guy, I’m no good to you. I can’t really help.”


As if to underline that point, Keyshawn titled his autobiography Just Give Me the Damn Ball – a book that he wrote after just one season in the NFL.


In her book Mindset, psychologist Carol Dweck contrasts those who are obsessed with validating their own talent with people who believe that great talent brings great responsibility. Who are the most valuable team players? It’s clearly those who see their talents as gifts to be shared, not entitlements to be hoarded.


Which brings us to John the Baptist – one of the Bible’s true stars, who also happens to be one of Scripture’s most humble characters.


John’s story, intriguingly, is worth remembering on this shortest day of the year. The winter solstice is the 24-hour period in which the northern hemisphere experiences the fewest minutes of daylight. Tomorrow, darkness will gradually begin to yield to increasing light.


It’s no accident that the birth of Jesus is celebrated just a few days later.


In author Walker Percy’s wonderful words: It gets darker and darker, and then Jesus is born.


No one knows the precise date (not the day, the month, or even the year) that Mary and Joseph brought their child into the world in Bethlehem. But early in church history, for a variety of interesting reasons, December 25 was earmarked as Jesus’ nativity.


If we journey six months ahead on the calendar, we arrive at the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.


A few days after that, June 24, is the official “nativity day” of John the Baptist.


No one knows exactly when John was born, either. So how did his special day become associated with the beginning of summer?


It has to do with the fact that before Jesus came on the scene in ancient Judea, John was the hottest spiritual ticket in town. His ministry was a public prelude to the arrival of the Messiah, and some of his followers wondered if John just might be that guy.


John himself was the one who set them straight. He never wrote a book entitled, Just Meet Me at the Darn River. As soon as the real Messiah showed up, he knew his work would begin to decline.


Pointing to Jesus, John announced, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).


That must have been crushing for John’s loyal followers. His disciples had hung on his every word. As long as John was Number One, and they were seen in his company, their spiritual standing was sky high.


But John made it clear that it was time for them to transfer their loyalty to Jesus, the One they had actually been waiting for.


What does it mean to be a star? A true star on God’s team – if we even dare to use such a term – is someone who flees the temptation to obsess over private talent. John knew his gifts. He knew his call. He says in John 3:27, “A man can only receive that which he has been given by God.” John knew he was merely an extra in God’s full-length movie of the history of the world. The real star was Jesus. That’s where he directed everyone’s attention.


When you think about it, that’s a pretty good working definition of humility.


It’s not that we think less and less of ourselves, but we think of ourselves less and less as we point the spotlight towards Christ.


Edward R. Murrow, who pioneered radio and television journalism during and just after World War II, was the envy of his peers at CBS. Many of them resented his brilliance. A few even launched a secret club called Edward R. Murrow is Not God. When Murrow found out about it, he came to a meeting and asked if he could become a member. The club declined after that.


All of us need to join a club called There is a God, and It’s Not Me. That’s the first step on the path to humility.


Jesus’ birthday is celebrated just after the darkest day of the year, in the certainty that things will now be getting lighter and lighter.


And John’s birthday is commemorated just after the longest day of the year, in the assurance that nothing will prevent the following days from becoming shorter and shorter.


He must increase; I must decrease.


That is the testimony of a humble person.


May that become our way of life this Christmas and all this winter as we march toward the ever-nearing warmth and light of spring.



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Would you like to explore previous reflections, and learn more about this ministry? Check out glennsreflections.com.

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