Monday, 18 December 2017

Advent 3- John the Voice





In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe four children arrive in a mystical land called “Narnia”. It is a land ruled by a witch who has caused the whole land to become enchanted- her magic makes it always winter, but never Christmas. The land is still good, and there are still good creatures there, but it is an oppressed land. The potential of the land is locked away. The potential of the good beings there is repressed. The green grass is frozen under the snow. The trees are locked in a stasis. The good people are not free to do good, but have to avoid the eye of the minions of the witch. The potential for joy, for love, for laughter, for goodness is frozen.

The four children are at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver when they hear that someone is coming to help. … “’They say Aslan is on the move- perhaps has already landed.’ And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it has some enormous meaning- either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.”

Aslan, the great lion, was coming to bring spring to the land. He was coming to unleash the potential locked up by the frost. He was coming so that the trees could bring forth their leaves, and the streams could flow, and the fish could jump, and the grass could grow, and each creature could be free to do the good they were born to do. Aslan was coming to free the land from the enchantment that enslaved it.

John the Baptist is like the one spreading the message, “Aslan is on the move- get ready. Your heart has been enchanted. It has been frozen by fear and sadness. This frost has kept you from being who God has created you to be. Get ready- Spring is coming. The land has been kept frozen- Justice has not been able to blossom- love has been kept frozen. But, Spring is coming. Aslan is on the move.”

He is quick to say what he is not- he is not the light; he is not the Christ; he is not Elijah; he is not the prophet like Moses they were waiting for.

What is he then? John saw himself as nothing more than a pointing finger. He pointed to Jesus- the lion of Judah. He is a voice. He is a witness. He’s a nudge. He’s a fragrance that lets us know something is upwind. He is a candle in the dark announcing the coming of the sun that will dispel the night. He is announcing the arrival of spring that will banish winter.

When John is asked to explain himself he uses the words of the prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’”.

How would we feel if we were from ancient Israel and heard John? We live in a country that is oppressed under the enchantment of the Roman Empire. … John’s words would have filled us with tremendous hope- God is coming to help his people! Justice is finally going to come to the land.

I think we, too, can sometimes feel like we live under an enchantment. We live in a frozen land where justice is not really able to blossom, where love between neighbours is stifled, where fear paralyses, and sadness isolates us. … To imagine a world not under that enchantment is a beautiful thing. Children will no longer be abused in their homes. We will no longer have family members die because of cancer and heart disease. We will no longer feel lonely. We will no longer be controlled by fear and anxiety. People are free from addictions. People will no longer be condemned to a life on the streets because of a mental illness, or because of the economy that helps the rich get richer and leaves to poor to become poorer. We will finally see justice done. Victims will be healed and restored. The famines and wars will end. Children will no longer die because of a lack of clean water or basic nutrition. When we see this future- a future where God is fully present with His people- we rejoice. We are excited for that world. We are excited for justice. We are hungry for things to be put right. We thirst for God to be fully with us.

But, there is another part of me that worries, if I’m honest. I worry because I know that sometimes I am a cause of that injustice. I help the world to be what it is for good or bad through my words, actions, and attitudes. I help to make this place worse than it could be- willingly or unwillingly- through things I have done or left undone- sometimes because of just plain carelessness. In some ways I am one of the reasons this word is not a better place than it is. This means that when God comes to deal with the world- when God comes to make this world a better place- God is going to have to deal with me.

Just when we might become depressed as we reflect on our sins. Just when we realize that we are a part of the problem God has to deal with, we hear a voice crying out from the wilderness. We hear a voice saying that we can be changed. We can be made ready for God’s coming. The road to be made straight for the Lord leads right through our hearts. As we are confronted with God’s coming presence we can’t help but look at ourselves in His light. We can’t help but realize that if God is going to rule the world, he has to rule our hearts first. We need to wipe the slate. We need to be given another chance to change our ways- to align our hearts and minds with God’s heart and mind. We need to change from how we view the world and start seeing the world as God sees it. John’s baptism is about that new start. It is about washing away the old sins and taking on a new way of life. But John’s baptism was of water. If we are to be truly changed it needs to be more than water.

John’s baptism is only a shadow of the baptism that is to come. He helps you prepare. He helps you recognize how you need to be changed. John points away from himself to one who was greater than himself. John points to the one who will come to baptize the repentant with the Holy Spirit. The one who will come will fill you with God’s power. He will fill you with God. He will give you the strength to live as people of God’s kingdom. He will bathe the people in God Himself. He will not only wipe the slate clean. He will not only forgive and wipe away your sins. He will empower you to change the world. He will make it so that God will live in you and change the world through you. That is what it means. … My fear that God will have to deal with me was misleading. It doesn’t mean that God is coming to destroy me for the wrong I do. God will deal with me by transforming me. God will resurrect me as a new person.

Ultimately though, it isn’t about me, or us. John wasn’t pointing to us. He said to make the way straight because someone is coming. Jesus is the future John is talking about. Jesus is the future for those all around us. Jesus is the future for the whole of creation. It is Jesus that John the Baptist points to, and it is Jesus who we will all be confronted by. We will all stand before “The Word of God”, “God with us”, the fully-human and fully-God Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Jesus doesn’t just come and fix things. Things are transformed because Jesus is present- because in Jesus God and creation exist in the same place and time and are brought into full harmony.

John calls with the voices of humanity through the ages who have longed for the world to be put right. John calls with the voice of the Scriptures and points to Jesus Christ, in whom the Scriptures are fulfilled. And we are in the middle of this story. We live in a mess of a world, and we are part of that mess, but we are being transformed, and the world with us. God is present. And God is continuously coming. And we stand with John as voices in the wilderness announcing his arrival. Come soon Lord, Jesus. AMEN

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