Friday, November 27, 2009

John the Baptist and Advent

As I prepare for the first Sunday in the Church's Advent season, I really do have my mind directed towards the coming of Christ. But, that coming on the human side of things was prepared for by John the Baptist. I am fascinated by this prophet, John the Baptizer. He went out to the desert, lived among the wild animals, dressed in animal skins, ate bugs for his main source of protein. And, he began to preach a new message about repenting and believing that God's kingdom was drawing near. I wonder exactly what was so new in John's preaching. I guess it sounded new because it hearkened back to that which was very, very old in Israel: the days of the true prophets like Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea. Days when the way of holiness was understood as unified to the way of justice and mercy in human life. Yes, John brought this message - very old, but always very new. Because, whenever we awaken to the profound depths of such a word like that spoken by Amos: "I hate, I despise your religious feasts. I am sick of the noise of your songs at your solemn assemblies. Your sacrifices and rituals make me sick to my stomach. But, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream!" When these words get a real hearing, they open human hearts to the coming of God's redemption. That's what John was doing - shaking people back to their foundations - waking them up that God was the only authority that was worth obeying and bowing down to.

And, when John saw Jesus he must have felt this huge weight come off his shoulders. That weight of holding on and getting ready and trying so hard to open the hearts of people to God's truth and help. But, when John saw Jesus, he saw that HELP had arrived. "Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." The sin of the world. That is the real problem we face. The sin of the world. That includes our own individual, family, societal sin, but goes even farther than that. The sin of the world. The twistedness of this world even while there is so much good and promise. The twistedness even of the best people, and the pervertedness of the worst. The sin of the world. The hatred of one nation for another; one group of religious people for another; people of lighter skin hating people of darker skin. The sin of the world.

So, as Advent draws near, I say those hopeful words that John first said: "Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

O, Lord, please come and take away the sin of the world. Take away the sin from my heart, from our hearts, from all hearts, and remove the vestiges of bondage to sin. That at your coming, Lord, we might be free - free at last, free at last, thank God almighty - free at last!