I am what I am

One of my favorite classic cartoons is Popeye the Sailor Man. Many sociologists and culture scholars consider Popeye a precursor to the many super heroes of paper comic books, radio, television, and action movies. One of his catchphrases is “I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam,” which is a bold and freeing expression of who his is.

  • This individualism flies in the face of who others want us to be.
  • This individualism flies in the face of expectations others place on us.
  • This individualism is a gift from God, who made us uniquely who we are and universally in God’s own image.

In our Gospel reading from John, we hear about another John, the cousin of Jesus, the one who prepares the way of the Lord, the one who baptized with water in preparation for the One for whom we wait. 

  • John the Baptist was given a magnetic personality and powerful message by God.
  • John the Baptist was given a role to be both a witness to, and to testify to the light.
  • John the Baptist was given a task that was rather confusing for those around him,
    • people who longed for a Messiah to save them,
    • people who wanted John to be more than who he was made by God to be,
    • people who placed expectations that exceeded the role and message that God had given to him.

John the Baptist, like Popeye, was a precursor to something, someone bigger, with a boldness and power that would exceed their own. John the Baptist, like Popeye, was portrayed as blunt, bold and brash. And John the Baptist, like Popeye, was portrayed standing up to, challenging and upsetting those in authority.

While John had an important role, it was a supporting, preparatory one. John, like Popeye says is “I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam,” an Advent message for us all.

  • John knew who he was.
  • John knew he was uniquely made by God for a unique role.
  • John knew that he was also, a child of God like those he shared the good news of the coming light of the world with.

A message for all who wait for the Messiah, each of them and you and I too, universally and lovingly made in the image of God.

In his defining himself, John the Baptist points to the Messiah. A Messiah that the people were trying to imagine, conjure up, longing so hard for, that they projected the role on people like John (much like we do when we seek presidential candidates). We who wait for the Lord, the Light, the One to come and save us, also try to imagine and conjure up who and what the Messiah will be like… what are you looking for in the Messiah, for what kind of Jesus do you wait?

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Throughout the Gospel of John the book calls Jesus as the I AM, as in I AM the Word of God, or I AM God’s very self. Today’s reading defines the I AM for whom we wait, the one, the true Light.

  • The light, the first act of creation.
  • The light, spoken into existence by God.
  • The light, Jesus is the Light for the whole creation.

But our reading skips a few verses that further defines Jesus the I AM, Jesus the Light who is…

9The true light that shines on everyone was coming into the world.

10The Word was in the world, but no one knew him, though God had made the world with his Word.

11He came into his own world, but his own nation did not welcome him.

12Yet some people accepted him and put their faith in him. So he gave them the right to be the children of God.

13They were not God’s children by nature or because of any human desires. God was the one who made them God’s children.

14The Word became a human being and lived here with us. We saw his true glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. From him all the kindness and all the truth of God have come down to us.

15John spoke about him and shouted, “This is the one I told you would come! He is greater than I am, because he was alive before I was born.”

16Because of all that the Son is, we have been given one blessing after another.

]17The Law was given by Moses, but Jesus Christ brought us undeserved kindness and truth.

18No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is truly God and is closest to the Father, has shown us what God is like.

This poetic reading about Jesus as the Word of God and the Light of the world is followed with John the Baptist saying, “I am not. . . “the Messiah, or Elijah, or the prophet Moses whom they believed would return.

John in defining who he isn’t points to the light.

  • John in defining who he isn’t claims the identity God gave him.
  • John in defining who he isn’t  claims all the gifts, skills and talents God blessed him with.
  • John in defining who he isn’t claims the freedom to be himself, the freedom to be who God made him to be.

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This freedom that John claims is yours and mine. God made us to be uniquely ourselves and universally Children of God… this is good news, this is freeing, this is who and whose we are.

Unfortunately the world or rather many in the world see themselves as God. Placing expectations on who we should be…

  • the perfect parent, spouse, student, athlete, artist,
  • the reflection of what they want of us, without regard to our unique personality,
  • and the servant of their desires, hopes and dreams, not God’s.

Placing expectations on how we should act…

  • the perfect lady or gentleman, strong or silent, macho or feminine, 
  • the reflection of what they want of us, without regard to our unique style,
  • the servant of their desires, hopes and dreams, not God’s.

Placing expectations on what we should value and what we should worship…

  • the perfect consumer who looks out for themselves first
  • the reflection of what they value, without regard to our role as Children of God,
  • the servant of their selfish desires, hopes and dreams, not God’s.

Those who place these expectations on us make us in their image; try to create us as they want us to be and not the way, unique and beautiful in God’s eyes, the way that God made us in love. It is easy to vilify those people who try to make us something and someone we are not. But the truth of the matter is that while others oppress us with their selfish and sinful expectations, we as individuals are often the ones ignoring God’s gifts and will for our lives.

We fail to recognize how we have been blessed, what we have been called to be and do. Instead we want to be God and make ourselves into something that we are not. The good news  is that we wait for the Messiah, the Light, the Word, who was with God, was in the beginning with God, and without him not one thing came into being, is God!    The God who freed John to be who he was, a baptizer, frees each of us to be who we are.

On this third Advent Sunday, we rejoice as we wait for the Lord Jesus, knowing we are free. Free to prepare and proclaim the coming of the Messiah in our own way because in the words of John the Baptist and Popeye, we can all say “I am what I am, and that’s what I am.”

Thanks be to God!    


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