"The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience."
"John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins"
Image: "John the Baptist" by Todd Pick, 2016.
COME HOME, COME HOME
Todd Pick, 2017.
He's out on the margins, standing on streams In peripheral places, words echoing on wind Crying out, calling forth, a lone prophet shouts This desert declarer gives voice to God's coming A trailblazing truth-teller announces good news Repent and return, come home, come home
Begin building bridges, paving highways of peace For God has moved mountains to meet us—be with us Incarnate Love will follow with Spirit and Fire God-with-us, God for us—holy-human entwine A precious, precarious pathway our hearts to prepare Repent and return, come home, come home
From evil and darkness and exile in sin Respond to salvation by way of the waters Wade in, wade in, letting grace overflow Step down into death, drowning, old ways entombed Deep calls to deep from the depths of this womb Repent and return, come home, come home
Beautiful and beloved, awaken now, arise Anticipate resurrection, renewal, rebirth Step up into light declared heaven's child Into promise of faithfulness, fruitfulness—hope! Water-marked, Spirit-born, you're never alone Cleansed and restored, welcome home, welcome home
PILGRIMS ON THE ADVENT JOURNEY Before we can continue on our annual pilgrimage to Bethlehem, we must take a detour which brings us to the river. Each year we must leave the well-worn path to the stable in order to make our way out to the wilderness. If we listen for something like a lion roaring and follow the voice of one crying out, we find ourselves at the water's edge confronted by a peculiar messenger.
As John the Baptizer prepared the way for Christ, he announced through ancient words that a new thing—a new dawning—was breaking into our imperfect lives. In a season rife with prophets and angels, John adds to the chorus announcing God drawing near. The good news, it seems, always needs to be carried, heralded, delivered in-person by a messenger. And the good news of the kingdom's coming always requires a response of repentance.
People went out of their way to hear this strange man in smelly clothing with locusts and honey on his breath, shouting, "Prepare the way of the Lord!" I think they came partly because John was such a sight to be seen; and partly because life is hard, and he offered them a chance to admit that out loud. He gave them a chance to stop pretending that they were perfect, that they didn't make mistakes, that they didn't need to start over again.
He allowed them to admit that they were fully human. And they allowed him to wash them off in waters which woke them up to new beginnings, to new life, to new being. John called out to God’s people. He invited them—and he invites us today—not to a manger, but to the waters: to the waters of renewal and rebirth.
Every Advent we need this weird and wild figure who reminds us that in order to fully meet God, our captivity to sin must die a death by drowning. He invites us to experience the life-changing power of grace and forgiveness. But they are never quite where we expect them to be. We have go to out of our way to get there. We have to head out to the margins, to the borderlines, to the thresholds where wilderness and Promised Land meet.
So this December, be on the lookout for messengers announcing the coming Light. They might appear in unexpected, out-of-the-way places. Listen for their words on the wind that blister and break open your heart. Be awakened to new life calling from the edges of your wilderness. Be prepared to leave safety and comfort behind to venture out to the places where rough is made smooth, valleys are filled and mountains are moved: places of transformation where God is already at work. Be ready to wade into the waters which re-member and re-make us. And be ready to bear a word of good news... a message that the newness of God is being born among us once again.