Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent 15 : A Light For John The Baptist

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way” —
“a voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

(Mark 1:1-8)

I’ve been in the Judean wilderness, rising up from the Jordan River and the Dead Sea; the wall of the deepest rift valley on earth, where John lived and went about his ministry.

I’ve seen the wilderness, through which God’s ancient people expected him to come one day, on his way to Jerusalem, with my own eyes. And I know that if you wanted to make a way through the wilderness, a straight path is no use to you.

A straight path will get you nowhere. You need a path that zigs and zags, as it seeks to climb rock so sheer that only the wild mountain ibex can pick their way up and down. A path that turns back on its self, painfully slowly, in order to gain ground...

In other words, the prophet cries out, what is really needed is not simply a better path, but a seismic shift in topography. Depths raised-up, heights brought low: the landscape unrecognisable as what was there before. The old paths no longer going anywhere at all...

John says we need to get ready. To repent – to change the direction we are moving in. To recognise that we are at a point in the path where we can go no further in this direction; and - with God’s grace - must find another.

But more than that, John says something is about to happen that will change everything forever. To respond to the call to make a straight path in the desert of our lives is to recognise that the one who will travel on it will, in his passing, transform the desert itself from the place of life in its most marginal experience to the place of life in all its fullness.

Come, Lord Jesus.

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