Friday, December 7, 2018

A Voice of One Calling in the Wilderness

After returning to speech after nine months of muteness, Zechariah--father of the baby who would become John the Baptist--spoke these words:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
    that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
    in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
(Luke 1: 68-79)

Have you ever realized that the four gospels all begin (either Christ’s birth or ministry) with John the Baptist?

Fleming Rutledge, Episcopal priest and author, offers a perspective that can shift our thinking about Jesus’ forerunner:  

“John does not proclaim Jesus as a captivating infant smiling benevolently at groups of assorted rustics, potentates, and farm animals. Instead, he cries out, ‘He who is coming after me is mightier than I. . . . His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’ (Matt. 3:11–12).”
John’s strong words and message of Jesus as powerful judge often get lost in the midst of Advent glow. The lights, calendars, songs, smells bring the manger scene—Christ’s first coming—to mind. But John’s message is just as much about how Jesus will act at the end of all time. As all of Israel hoped for the Messiah, they sought a mighty King, a righteous judge. But Jesus arrived as a humble babe. What would this mean for John’s future message?

Fleming continues:
“A characteristic liturgical petition of Advent is Maranatha—come, Lord Jesus! It is certainly not a prayer for Jesus to come again as a helpless baby; it is the longing cry of God’s people for him to return in power and glory.”
Indeed, this hope in the One who will put an end to all wickedness and sin 
“is not so frightening to the poor and oppressed of the earth as it is to those who have a lot to lose. . . Even today, John the Baptist’s lonely, austere style of life bears witness to a reality that is coming, a reality that will expose all worldly realities, all earthly conditions, all human promises as fraudulent and transitory. His appearance on the scene at this time of year exposes our pretensions for what they really are. Never have we needed him more!

In the most extraordinary way, John is truly our contemporary; he stands at the very precipice of the collision of two forces, at the juncture where the world’s resistance to God meets the irresistible force of the One who is coming. There he is . . .forever summoning us to rethink and reorder our lives totally, orienting ourselves to an altogether new perspective—the perspective of God.”
He is the preacher; the witness; the spotlight directing it’s beam intently on Christ. His words were unfiltered and frank. He spoke truth where many were not ready to hear it. This Advent, are you prepared to hear it? Are you willing to push aside the plush Nativity scene and “prepare Him (the King and Judge Jesus) room”? 

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