This past week the lectionary readings directed us to focus on John the Baptist, and his "voice in the wilderness" calling the people of Israel to repent, confess their sins, and be baptized for forgiveness in preparation for the one who was coming, who was greater than John, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
We ended up focusing on John the Baptist both at Christ Community, (where we follow the lectionary), and Heartland (where we are going through a sermon series called Voices of Advent), and I've got the themes on my mind, so I thought I'd write an extension of some of those thoughts here…
Isaiah's promise is that God will come to redeem his people. They are in exile, but God is promising to come and save. John's call is that, in order to receive this promise, we must repent and be baptized. We must change direction, do something different than what we've been doing, pass through the water to the "promised land". Repenting is simply preparing for a new reality that is coming. When electricity first came to rural America, people had to change the way they lived in order to receive it. Cables and wires needed to be installed in order to receive the "kingdom of electricity" that was "at hand". We must do the same to welcome the new reality God desires to bring to us.
It's interesting to note that when Jesus came on the scene, Luke comments that "All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words,
acknowledged that God's way was right, because they had been baptized
by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John" (Luke 7:29-30). Preparing the way by repenting made all the difference in the world between the tax collectors and the Pharisees. They ones who rejected Jesus were the ones who refused to humbly repent.
The season of Advent is a counter-cultural one. In the midst of the cozy sentimentality that surrounds our culture's "Holiday Season", Advent asks us to soberly examine ourselves and see if we are really ready for Christ to come again, to invade our lives in a fresh way. Advent calls us not only to wistfully anticipate Baby Jesus in the manger, but to actively prepare for Christ to come as King; to really become ready to receive Christ, by prayer and fasting and repentance.
In the midst of the consumerism, materialism, and sugary sentimentality of our culture's "Holiday Season," how can we hear John's Advent voice, calling us to repent and prepare the way for Christ to come again into our lives in a new and deeper way?