A Man From the Wilderness
The church year renews itself and for 2011-2012, we use Cycle B, which is the Book of Mark for our Gospel lesson. Yesterday, we read the beginning of Mark, Chapter 1, verses 1 through 8. This text quotes the Hebrew scripture for the day, Isaiah 40:1-11, including the powerful “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
The desert was where things happened. And where people ran to hide – Moses fled there after he killed the Egyptian overseer; Elijah hid from Jezebel; David hid in a desert cave from his enemies; Jesus went there after John the Baptist was executed. In the early centuries of the Christian church, men and women seeking solitude to pray to God and live contemplative lives left the cities and towns and lived in the desert. John the Baptist undertook the ministry bestowed on him by God in the desert.
We don’t know why John chose the desert, but it’s a good guess that he knew he was called to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy, to prepare hearts and minds for the advent of Jesus of Nazareth.
John was preparing people for a new way of thinking, of doing, of being. His plunging of people into the waters of Jordan reenacted the people of Israel being delivered from the Pharaoh, of coming through the Red Sea. This was an act of salvation, deliverance and commitment. By rising up from the water, the men and women who came to John made a promise to God to live differently than they had before – honoring God before all else in life, make a new start, just as the Israelites had when they crossed through to the promised land. John was also called to prepare people for the moment when this new idea would be taken a step further, and that would happen when Jesus arrived on the scene.
John is one of those prophets that intrigues and frightens. Let’s be honest: if a man wearing camel hides, dirty, disshevelled, gaunt, sunburnt, came walking up the center aisle of your place of worship, what would be your first reaction?
Would you know he was a prophet? Would you ignore him like so many of us ignore the homeless and the different folk that sleep on our sidewalks and under our bridges, in shelters made out of refrigerator cartons? The people who ride transit all night to stay out of the cold and rain?
Would someone like John be welcome in your faith community?
Sometimes the message is even more disturbing than the messenger.
It’s easy to look past the person and pretend he or she doesn’t exist. But what if the message is so compelling you can’t forget it, can’t shake it? That’s what John was doing.
And when Jesus came along…hold on to your hats.