I had the honor of officiating at the wedding of Jeff and Melissa Kotora just a couple hours ago (yesterday afternoon), and while Jeff and Melissa were in the late planning stages for their wedding, they seemed to be calm and collected; Melissa’s biggest worry was that Jeff would shave his beard for the service, and I wondered if he would keep the bling in his ears. Then I was reassured when I remembered something that Rita Rudner has said. She said “I think men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage: They’ve experienced pain and bought jewelery.” That ear pain is nothing, of course, next to the pain of being a Giants fan this season, a pain that Jeff and I know all too well.
One good way to ensure that you have a good wedding ceremony is to have a good best man. Jeff’s was excellent, as was mine. Mine was my brother Bill, and both here and at Ascension & St. Agnes, where I got married, the best man is in charge of making sure the wedding happens on time. My brother, who is a biomedical engineer, logistics expert, and the head verger at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, PA, was a perfect fit for the role. The bell was to ring at three minutes past the appointed hour, and my brother ran the countdown like it was a NASA mission. It seems that, at least here and at Ascension & St. Agnes, one of the best qualities of a best man is to know what time it is.
In ancient Greece, grooms had best men at their weddings, and they were called, believe it or not, paranymphs (called by the Hebrews “Shōshbēn). “A paranymph is a ceremonial assistant and or coach in a ceremony.” Paranymphs were also the helpers for a doctoral candidate when they went to defend their thesis. The office also “can refer specifically to the friend of a bridegroom tasked with accompanying him in a chariot to fetch the bride home.”1 The paranymph “was charged with the preliminaries of the marriage. He arranged the contract, acted for the bridegroom during the betrothal, and arranged for, and presided at, the festivities of the wedding-day itself. It was a position of honour, in proportion to the position of the bridegroom himself, and was given to his chief friend.”2
Can anyone identify the paranymph, the best man, in the readings for today? If you guessed John the Baptist, you win. He actually refers to himself as the best man at his cousin’s wedding: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom,” John says, referring to Jesus, “the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full.”
“This in John’s thought is an illustration of his own position. The bridegroom is the Messiah; the bride is…the Church, consisting of all who with pure hearts are willing to receive Him; the friend who has arranged the betrothal, who has prepared these hearts, is John himself. He now stands and hears the Bridegroom. Some of those who had been prepared by (John) for the Bridegroom would have come, it may be, and told him of (Jesus’) words. (Jesus) is now near at hand. Throngs crowd to Him. The bride is approaching. Do they see in all this matter for envy? It is to (John, however) the consummation of all hopes. (His) life-work has not been in vain. The cup runs over. (His) joy is fulfilled.3
And yet, even as John the Baptist was awash (pun intended) in joy, he knew what time is was. He knew that he must decrease, as he says, because Jesus must increase. John was never any good at keeping his mouth shut, and being a prophet and all, he might have had a clue about what “decreasing” would look like.
The Baptist knew that for him, even as the paranymph, even as the best man, even the greatest prophet, Jesus tells us, ever born of a woman, or maybe because of all those things, that joy and decrease were not mutually exclusive. John knew that joy and sacrifice were not incompatible. He knew that joy was hearing the Bridegroom’s voice, knowing that he had been a good and faithful best man. And he knew what time it was, that his time was waning.
I wonder what it would look like if all of us checked the time this Advent. If all of us checked to see if we were increasing or decreasing, if we too are being faithful bridesmaids or groomsmen, if we too are overflowing with joy at the thought of the Bridegroom’s arrival, if we too hear and respond to Jesus’ voice.
2Elliot’s Commentary for English Readers