(The Year is a series of occasional reflections on the Sundays and Holy Days of the church calendar, featuring scripture readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.)
…[T]he word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:Luke 3:2b-6
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Imagine, if you will, yourself on the shores of the river Jordan. Down by the river is a man—long-haired, dressed in camel skin—yelling at the top of his lungs. Fleming Rutledge rightly describes him as “irreducibly strange, gaunt and unruly, lonely and refractory, utterly out of sync with his age or our age or any age. Even Elijah is positively lovable and cuddly by comparison.”
The people love him. Well, they either love him or hate him. He’s a polarizing figure, and they can’t get enough. They gather in multitudes to see what provocative thing he will say next, whether it is calling out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees or the immorality of the tetrarch Herod. His overall message is clear and threatening to those with current authority: there is a kingdom coming, and it is going to be radically different than the present order of things. Turn from your current beliefs, be forgiven of your sins, and follow the coming Messiah. Our message today is no different.
John’s message gets him arrested and killed, and it could do the same for you. One of the running themes of Advent is persecution. Like John the Baptist, whether or not we wear camel skin and eat locusts, we are an anomaly to the world around us, for no less a reason than the fact we don’t belong to it. Thrust onward by a different motivation than what money, sex, power, or whatever else the world would give us, we are often called to act radically different than the people around us. Our lives, as well as our words, speak the gospel: our king is coming.
So, preach the gospel. Live the gospel. We stand as the oddball ambassadors of Jesus’ coming kingdom, set apart from the world, called to cry out in word and action, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” We are the wild-haired prophets in our current day.
(Cover image: El Greco, St. John the Baptist, ca. 1600)