“A voice from the wilderness”
As the days draw near to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the emphasis is that as preached by John the Baptist all those years ago, repentance-turning away from sin and turning towards God. A change in direction.
John had an extraordinary life as right from the start, in a preceding chapter we are told that when Mary, carrying the baby Jesus in her womb visits her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb-John, leaped for joy when they met. The next we hear of John is in today’s Gospel where he has been living in the desert, wearing a coat made from camel hair and living off locusts and wild honey. He would have been quite a sight for the many, many people who had travelled from the cities to hear him preaching of preparing for the coming of the Lord by being baptised and repenting.
He was a powerful and bold preacher who didn’t “guild the Lilly” but just told it how it was and as we know in our world today that can take some gumption. But John took no prisoners in telling the truth as we hear later when he is imprisoned and beheaded after giving King Herod a going over about his adulterous marriage. But his greatest strength was his focussed and faithful commitment to the call of God in his life. John knew he had been given a specific call and set out with uncompromising singular obedience to fulfil that mission. We could imagine that he may have suffered ridicule like that of Noah when building a giant boat in the middle of nowhere. Because in those years, with no old age pension or superannuation nest egg, it was essential to have children as they would provide for you when you could no longer be self-sufficient. So even If not his parents, I wonder what the community thought of him when as his parents only child, he leaves them and wanders into the desert.
John just didn’t talk the talk; he walked the walk and certainly was the right man to be ushering in the public arrival of Jesus. His voice was a voice from the wilderness that many heard and responded to in baptism. But also a voice from the wilderness that was offensive. Offensive because just as Jesus later, his message was out of line with the times. It wasn’t the content of his words that offended as baptism was already in place within the Jewish society as it was custom that non-Jews had to be immersed in water under the supervision of a religious expert should they wish to convert to Judaism.
Similar, the Jewish people also practiced repentance in asking God’s forgiveness and determining to change when they did something wrong. But the ultimate repentance, the turning from a wrong way of living to a right way of living was when a non-Jew decided to obey their teachings of God. So to tell the Jewish people that they had to be baptised and repent the same way as non-Jews was offensive as it challenged their belief that if they were born Jewish and did not reject God’s law, they would be saved.
Even here on the banks of the Jordan, we can see why Jesus was to get such a hard time when he arrived on the scene showing no favouritism and hanging out with all manner of person. The messages from both John the Baptist and Jesus were not in sync with the expectations of the day, or dare I say it, of our days.
The Jewish, were God worshipping people and had been awaiting the arrival of the Messiah, yet because he didn’t fit their expectations, many didn’t understand him or his offer of salvation-just as many in society don’t today, as the Gospel of our Lord was foreign to the Jews and still is foreign to many today.
Our times need more John or Jill the Baptists to tell the world “how it is”. To tell us “how it is” because we too, like John himself can get confused with the world around us. Yes even for John, Jesus and his message turned out a little different than he had expected as we are told in Luke chapter 7 that upon hearing that Jesus has delivered his famous Beatitudes, cleansed a man of unclean spirits, healed the paralysed and raised the dead is still lead to ask him via messengers from his jail cell, “Are you the one?”.
And Jesus response? Not “you’re kidding aren’t you” but “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed are those that are not offended by me”.
And then, not “I thought he had it all together” but “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he”.
Oh to be in that number when the saints go marching in.
Recently a gentleman told me of two gifts he has received, one spiritual and one worldly. Both interconnected as the latter could only been seen as a gift after having received the prior-faith.
When in the womb John the Baptist leaps for Joy when coming into contact with Jesus. We too leap for joy in the gift of faith. Faith, that intangible thing inside that changes our outlook on our world. Hardships that seen in the light of Christ bring growth. Remarkable achievements and joys that can be seen as not from our “greatness”, but a gift from God to us, and those it effects. Faith that asks of us what we already know, the need to turn from our false God of self, and put God the father of our Saviour first.
Faith that says, even though you have fallen short many, many times and continue to do so-Jesus Christ died for your sins that when you stand before the father, in Christ His Son your sins are washed clean and glow in the pure radiance of His Glory. Hard to believe, but true.
Pray we daily turn back to God, and pray that one day our earthly brothers and sisters still searching will ask “Is he the one?” Amen.