Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Advent Reflection 2015: Week Three

[John] said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

“ I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:23-27, 33)

John the Baptizer committed the ultimate heresy: Telling the power brokers of the dominant culture something that they didn’t already believe.

This kind of behavior is what got both John and Jesus in trouble with the local religious leaders. John’s call to repentance seemed to bother them, not necessarily because they didn’t appreciate the idea, but because John lacked adequate credentials. If he wasn’t the Messiah or Elijah or “the prophet,” then what was he doing in his ragged garments and crazy hair telling people to turn their lives back to God before it was too late?

But John knew who he was and who had authorized him to do what he was doing. More importantly, he knew who he wasn’t. He wasn’t the Messiah. He wasn’t the one long awaited by Israel to renew their destiny as the people of God. In the meantime, John served as sign and wonder, pointing through his actions toward a new and better thing that was to come. He drenched people with common river water in the act of baptism; someone was coming, he claimed, who would drench people’s lives with the very spirit of God.

In this Advent season, as we consider and reconsider the coming of Jesus, it might be good to reflect on how our lives are also intended to be sign and wonder for the sake of the world. In all that we do as followers of Jesus—gather together for worship, care for the poor, pray for the sick and hurting, work for justice in the world—we give evidence to Jesus’ claim that the kingdom of God is near (Mark 1:15).

Forty or so years after John’s death, the Roman army wiped out Jerusalem, destroying the city and its center of worship. John’s ministry pointed to something better that was to come, and still the world carried on in its self-destructive cycles. John was not about altering that inevitability.

Perhaps, in a similar way, followers of Jesus may not be able to divert the disastrous course of the world, but our lives—both individually and corporately—should serve as sign and wonder, pointing to God’s intentions for a new heaven and a new earth, one in which his justice, healing, and peace will be established.

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