Here we are at John 1:19-28 at the forerunner, the John the Baptist, the missing figure from the Nativity scene. The one who is preparing the world for Christ.
How is he preparing? He is baptizing people. John baptizes people so much, it become a part of his identity. John the Baptizer.
Are we preparing for Christ? Are we baptizing this week? John the Baptist is an apocalyptic figure (as I noted here), but he doesn’t prepare for the apocalypse by giving up. He finds ways to be faithful in a troubled time. He finds his own way to serve people.
It reminds me of the parable (i.e. there’s not actual evidence that this was actually said, but it encapsulates the theology well) that Martin Luther noted that even if the world is going to pieces tomorrow, he would still be planting a tree today. This parable arose in the midst of Nazism as the work in the face of hopelessness continues. John the Baptist’s version of this parable is that if the world was ending tomorrow he would baptize as many people as possible.
John the Baptist denies being the Messiah or even a Prophet, he is instead a working preacher, a voice–a minister of word and sacrament if you like. He is preparing the way for Jesus to be born. Every year we welcome Jesus, John the Baptist prepared in new and extraordinary ways. This year how are we preparing to welcome Jesus into our homes?
Can we hear the voice in the desolation this year? Does it sound like Isaiah 61:1-4? How can we proclaim good news to the oppressed, to bind up those with broken hearts and freedom to the prisoner.
In the midst of mourning–which so many of us are this year between pandemics and natural disasters and economic inequities, can we see where God is planting the oaks of righteousness?
Maybe it’s not our job to do all the planting, maybe we need to pay attention to where God has already planted. Maybe it’s not about how many people we have baptized, but instead finding the voices that are crying out truth in the midst of desolation.
Or maybe we are just hanging onto with our thin threads of faith, maybe we are just attaching ourselves as much as possible to God’s promise to repair the devastations of generations. Maybe this is the only thing we can focus on this year.
In Psalm 126 the seed theme continues with restoration. Are you finding restoration in the texts this year?
Maybe it’s time to think about the seeds that have to be ignited by fire before they plant. Especially with John’s promises that we will be baptized by fire. Is this our baptism? This understanding the God can grow us despite and within disaster. God is faithful, and it’s ok to be burnt out in between.
Or are you testing and praying, and praying and testings as is exhorted in 1 Thessolonians 5:16-24? Are we having trouble holding fast to that which is good? Are we unable to give thanks? Can we take comfort in the fact that those who are in Thessolonia mere years after Jesus Christ are having trouble doing all of these things. If they didn’t have trouble, they wouldn’t need reminders.
Remember we midst of practicing apocalypse and advent/waiting for Christ, because we humans have to practice every single year in order to even get an inkling to what this will ultimately need to do. It’s ok to need to practice, it’s in fact human to need to practice. Just like John.
Where are the texts leading you during this season of hard advent waiting. We invite you to share where you are below.
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny Presbyterian church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY since 2020 and blogs prayers & Narrative Lectionary at http://www.katyandtheword.com She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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