Saturday, December 17, 2011

Occupy Bethlehem?

 Luke 1:46b-55

The Occupy Movement was born in September. Rather quietly it entered into our news. No one expected it to amount to much. It was just an interesting news story about a bunch of people camped out in a small park between Wall Street and the World Trade Center site.

It had no manifesto, no creed, just signs about economic justice that appealed to the poor and oppressed. And they had a slogan that caught on, “We are the 99%”.
. . .
Only a few people expected Jesus to amount to much after he quietly entered into a simple family that had overcome the scandal of a pregnancy before the wedding. He ended up being born in very simple circumstances, camping out in a stable. The slogan that surrounded his birth gave hope to the poor and oppressed too. “Peace on earth, good will to all.”
We’d have to strain to find any more similarities between the birth of the Occupy movement and the birth of the Savior and still I wonder, “If Jesus occupied Bethlehem?”

In both cases the news traveled unexpectedly fast. Carried by Twitter posts or Angel song. Simple people felt compelled to go see for themselves what kind of new thing was being born.
The crowd at Zuccotti Park in NY swelled as people, frustrated with jobs or the lack of one went down to the park. Some drove into the city because they were fed-up with the 1% holding the wealth and strings of power. They wanted to make a statement. The middle class of all ages, the young and the curious came to ‘occupy’ Wall Street.

In Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph were probably glad for a bit of privacy as her time drew near. But they didn’t stay alone for long. Certainly the word of a new baby spread through the guests staying nearby and some came to welcome new life or because they were curious. The shepherds swelled the crowd in the stable still hearing angel song in their ears and strangely already knowing that a baby had been born and what he would look like. Soon the little place of solace became a center of rejoicing; a new baby was occupying a manger.

All this would come months after Mary’s poetic prophetic outburst. The words of her ‘song’ have a political edge, but are not quite a manifesto for a movement.[i] Did she somehow foresee that her son would occupy her town, and others throughout Israel and because of the Spirit’s Movement he would occupy and save the world?

….Perhaps in Mary’s special moment, connected to Elizabeth and feeling the presence of the HS touching her cousin and the babes in their wombs, Mary got a glimpse beyond her circumstance. Maybe, just for a minute, she could zoom out and see the larger picture of the protest God was inaugurating in their troubled world. .

The occupy movement has been criticized for not having a vision or demands. But if we zoom out for a moment we see the picture that Time magazine so eloquently paints this week. Protest is the movement of the moment in the world!

Beginning last January, Time magazine details 27 different flash points of protest around the world. What began in frustration is resulting in dramatic change. In Tunisia, the president ended 23 years in power following protest that began with a young man setting himself on fire in frustration. In Egypt President Mubarak resigned. In Yemen the President made a deal to end his 33 year reign.
            Mary’s words echoed in my head as I read the article and wondered if the lofty are being brought low?

There are a diversity of settings and a multitude of reasons that spark protest. Some places have seen great violence. In Syria crackdowns persist while in Jordan and Burma, peaceful protests ruled the day.

There’s been civil war in Libya and camping-in protestors across Spain that helped inspire the occupiers in the US. From Iraq to Greece to Tibet, people are rising up against corruption, rebelling against oppression, reaching out for democracy, and risking their lives and lively-hoods to stand up for positive change.

Time Mag, named the ‘protestor’ the person of the year. Saying, “All over the world, the protesters of 2011 share a belief that their countries’ political systems and economies have grown dysfunctional and corrupt—sham democracies rigged to favor the rich and powerful and prevent significant change.” And [people] pine for some third way, a new social contract.”[ii]

Anderson wrote in Time, “Rising expectations that go unfulfilled are sociology’s classic explanation for protest.” Just this week, CBS News reported “Nearly 1 in 2 in the US have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.” The latest census data depict a middle class (here) that is shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government’s safety net frays”[iii] 

 One recent protestor, Mr. Anna Hazare, who protested corruption in India with hunger strikes, said, “When God wants to bring in change, he needs a vehicle of change, and I became that vehicle.”

Mary was a vehicle for change. She carried the One who would effect God’s salvation in her body. And even before she knew any thing about her son, a part of her could rejoice at what was coming to be in God’s own way of protesting the ways of the world.

Stirring within Mary was a future vision. She understood the blessing that was hers and that would be for all people.
She spoke of what SHOULD be, that
Respect and honor are rewarded
That God’s strength is active and recognized in the world.
She names reversals, great reversals where
The proud are scattered
The powerful brought down off their thrones
Even the lowly are lifted up, (perhaps she was including herself?) She names the disgrace of inequity and says wrong will be turned – right-side-up when
The hungry are filled with good things
And the are rich sent away empty – I wonder if Jesus was echoing his mother’s words in the “Beatitudes” when he said “Blessed are the Poor. . .for the rich have already received their rewards.”

Most of all Mary affirms that God keeps God’s covenant promises toward God’s people.
In this special moment Mary is given the gift of perspective – she can see what God is doing for the troubled world.

But she uses the language of what has already been done.
Mary speaks the promise of what will be done, in the language of what has already been accomplished.

Only she can speak about the new thing already taking place, because it is taking place in her. In the very moment of her song all the promises of God are coming to pass.
. .
Maybe Mary could see what God was about, but we struggle with 2,000 years of history since Jesus was born.
Has life changed since Mary’s day?
            Empires change; they rise and fall.  And democracies come into being, but
have the proud been scattered? Aren’t we talking about the 1%?

Are not the ‘Powers That Be’ still firmly in place?- - -controlling govt. with their influence,
markets with their money, and commanding those who wield pepper spray on the crowds that protest oppression?  In what way are any of Mary's statements are true?

Mary’s song of reversals has a political edge. What is Good news for the poor, if enacted- might be bad news for those currently wielding power.[iv] 
I was reminded that Mary's statement about God's righteousness and action on behalf of oppressed keeps us from inappropriately spiritualizing the gospel msg.[v]

Michael Kinnamon of the NCC spoke in DC recently,
“If we look for God only in spiritual things,
  if we speak about God’s presence as something that is only in our hearts,
  if we teach that God’s promise has only to do with heaven, then we may overlook God altogether.
Because the God we know and worship was born in a cave where animals were kept—the child of poor, Jewish peasants—threatened by a king who saw in him the seed of political revolution (Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-18).
“Christmas,” writes one theologian (Shirley Guthrie), “is the story of the radical invasion of God into the kind of real world where we live all year long—a world where there is political unrest and injustice, poverty, hatred, jealousy, and both the fear and longing that things could be different.”[vi]

God cares about injustice, oppression, and hunger ravaging his people. When righting these wrongs means overturning the ‘Powers That Be,’ God may work among the protestors to occupy places of change.
But no protest movement alone can bring God’s Kingdom to reality.
No movement however well purposed...”no matter how noble, [can] inaugurate the reign of God.”[vii]
Only Jesus brings the Reign of God. (because God occupies Jesus)

Jesus proclaimed a loving, caring God whose Reign is now, was then, and will be tomorrow.
In God’s time justice has already happened.
We are the ones living in a time warp, where we can’t see it yet.
We are the ones who need the spirit-touched vision of Mary, so we can occupy what God has already made possible.

Confused about my verb tenses?
It’s because we live a linear time line where cause and effect rule the day, while God is not limited by time or human definitions of what is ‘right’ (& possible).

- In God's world you can give everything you have away and secure the brightest possible future for yourself.
- In God's reign, transgressions are forgiven, and sinners welcomed to dine with Jesus.
- In this kingdom we can satisfy the hungry with good things and trust that we won’t go without. We can relinquish all power, rejoicing in what doesn’t make a profit.

Because of the Jesus movement, we can LIVE in what has already begun, even when we can’t always see it.
It all begins right here – with us.

Once WE have been occupied, we can speak of the one
who WAS, who IS, and who IS TO COME.
When Jesus occupies us, then all the joy of Christmas is ours, and the gift of God's reversals can be embraced, not feared.

When we are occupied, we see like Mary that justice is possible,-- in fact already begun... No One gets left behind.

We are ALL God's - 100%!

....What began then in MARY - begins again right now when Jesus Occupies US and enters in – again - to our world.

[i] Andrew Purves Feasting On The Word, Yr A Theological Bartlett and Taylor, eds. (Louisville: WJK, 2008) 82
[ii] Kurt Anderson The Protestor Time Magazine Dec. 26, 2011
[iii] CBS News Dec. 15, 2011Wash. DC based on census data
[iv] Purves ibid 82
[v] Purves ibid 84
[vi] Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon on Why Christians Should Be Particularly Aware of Poverty and Justice Issues at Christmastime. (Delivered at the Faithful Budget Prayer Vigil on Capitol Hill - December 13, 2011)
[vii] Purves, Feasting p 82

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Silent Years by Alan Green

I am reading "The Silent Years" by Alan Green and it's perfect for this time of year. I would love to see our youth and middle school youth read it just because it would set them on a good path for understanding Jesus' life. Green writes about the unknown early years of Jesus' days. He takes what we do know and instead of trying to combine gospel stories, he takes a single point of view and explores what might have been.
While some of his detailed descriptions seem like he's trying too hard to cover all the exegetical work behind a certain time, in other places I appreciate the detail and the reminder of the time in which Jesus lived. Green uses conversations between Jesus and his uncle to explore Jesus' growing awareness and sensitivity to God's ways. I especially enjoy the places where Jesus' calls into question the way 'it has always been done' or interpreted.
It is a short book and most of the time I just keep turning pages. Once in a while I hit a slow spot and am learning to skim more quickly through those sections.
It would make a great stocking stuffer for someone who enjoys fiction and wonders about what's missing from Bible stories. Just don't try to read it after a page-turner mystery. It's not that kind of book.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

7 minutes

7 minutes spent checking email. 7 minutes that included a quick read of recent twitter posts. 7 that does not include my post here. How many 7 minute segments like this are in my day? Hmmm I wonder.

Monday, December 12, 2011


It's a morning for reading and journaling. Hard to believe I must shower and get to work. These Mondays after very full Sundays are tough, but it's what the rest of the world does. I'm really not ready to take on next week's lectionary texts yet. That's my usual Monday routine. I'm still basking in the 'glory' of yesterday's sermon that took so much energy to write AND was well received.

The twitter posts and morning blogs are also good today- couldn't I just stay here and drink coffee a while longer?

Today, Advent's waiting seems like a good idea. I'm in no hurry to go anywhere.
But the office awaits, and who knows what or whom will be there wanting to talk about . . Yesterday.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Letting Scripture Speak Through Us

Did you see the NASA video this week showing a real UFO? The object was near Mercury and was hidden from view, or in Sci-Fi lingo, it was “cloaked.” Until a solar eruption sent a burst near Mercury, then it appeared in the telescope’s view and was recorded and broadcast. It caused quite a stir - from You-Tube quotes describing it as a ship, to tabloids calling it a ‘death-star’ after a Star Wars’ Movie spaceship.
It is certainly a week to speculate that ‘We are not alone’.

What an appropriate theme for Christmas, don’t you think? The bottom line  of all our favorite scriptures tells us that we are not alone, God is with us, Immanuel.

While you may be waiting to hear some of those favorite stories on Sunday, it turns out we have John again this week. (don’t moan)
John from John’s gospel is a little different than he was last week. This brief passage follows John’s celestial birth story. John’s gospel has a very unique way of describing Jesus as yet Unidentified- but ‘soon-to-be-identified’ object. . . .who is a WITNESS to God’s love.

    In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life,a and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. . . .9 The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world.       CEB John 1:1-9

All these words about the light coming into the world. Do you wonder what is the connection to John?
He is a witness to Jesus. and he is most like us and we should be like him. (we will be passing out animals skins and leather belts  to wear as you leave, and I’m told there may be a special dish of locusts at tonight’s meal.) But seriously,
Today’s message is a simple one, we, like John, have a mission to POINT TO JESUS. . we too are witnesses, and . . .
        the scriptures can only speak thru us.
Humans today are more likely to identify with a UFO than with the Christ we worship. They don’t know his story and they don’t know who he is. We have to point to Jesus and say "Look! Look at HIM!” (stop looking at the news where Christians are identified as narrow-minded, single-focused bigots.) Instead, “Look at Jesus, the man I’m pointing to, then you will know of God's desire for peace on earth.”
“When you know him, we will be able to work together for justice and goodwill for all.”

But it begins with our pointing to Jesus.

I know it’s not that we don’t want to do it. We want to be witnesses. We love the Lord. We are here because we have experienced something special. God’s Spirit touches us and we feel it inside and we feel it when we work together in service and in fellowship.
It always sounds like a good idea to share Jesus - when we are sitting here, doesn’t it? But what will you think this time tomorrow?
What would it mean to tell the good news to those around you at 11 a.m. Monday morning?

How do we do it?

I want you to come on a mental journey with me. We are going to visit a place where our guides are always saying, “Look!”.
We are going to visit the island of Assateague on the Eastern Shore. Our first stop is the visitor’s center. My friend, Nancy volunteers there and so does Suzanne’s father, so we know we’ll be greeted by friends. (It’s comforting to be guided by someone you know.)
Assateague Tours

Assateague Tours
If you are at all familiar with the island you are probably already wondering if we’ll see any wild ponies. I am sure we will, they wander everywhere. But there’s some other things our guides want us to notice.
    There is a distinct lack of buildings instead we See
    scrub pines, that are weather beaten and thick in places. Sometimes they are standing in water.
    Can you Smell the ocean air, mixed with the evergreen?
(our senses love this kind of journey)
    Feel the Crunch of sand as we walk towards the beach.
(& going this time of year, we don’t even need to worry about the dreaded mosquitos the area is famous for.)
-- and as we get closer, we can hear the sound of waves, not real big, but still rolling into the shore.

This beautiful and protected piece of God’s creation is a gift to visit. And walking with us are guides who POINT (the way).
    They show us where to look for spectacular views,
    They answer any question we ask.
    They even ask us questions to get to know us better and point us in directions that will interest us.

Because of these guides, we get pointed to places where we can really experience the island. We get to see, hear, smell, feel and maybe even taste a bit of Assateague.
We may leave this place with more questions than we came with.
We will certainly have seen more than someone who wandered around without a guide.
and we will most likely return to experience it more deeply -
all because of our friends, guides who ‘pointed the way’.

Freeman Tilden created a guide for guides. His work is pivotal for those who point they way in our national parks and nature refuges. He says the goals of a guide are
to inspire provocation, and to make park resources meaningful and relevant for audiences
His words point the way for everyone who witnesses to something beyond themselves. We who would point the way to Jesus find our goals are the same; (slowly)
    to provoke interest, to convey the message of God’s love so it is
        meaningful and relevant for our friends - and for the world.

In order to do any pointing beyond ourselves, we have to understand and voice our love. Whether it’s for a place like Assateague Island or for the person of Jesus, the Christ. We must know what it is we feel. We must learn to articulate what we have experienced as Christians.

Tilden calls this core understanding -an interpretive theme. Simply, these are the words that articulate a reason or reasons for caring about the natural habitat.
or In our case, we can name WHY we care about Jesus. . .- Can you? Have you ever put words to what you feel?
    I’m looking for Something beyond, “Jesus died for my sins”. Those are someone else’s words and unless you can explain them, I doubt it will point the way for someone else.

Our personal theme is an ‘artistic creation’ (our very own) based upon the Christ’s significance in our own life. It is the expression of what we know to be meaningful about our faith. And we use language that others can connect to with their own experiences in life.1

Coming up with this theme statement may be the hardest thing we do, but we must if we are to be a witness. It is easy to say, “I love Jesus”, “my church means a lot to me,” but explaining it means work. The process can be a struggle that requires repeated adjustment, focussed effort, and time.2

But our statement ties our tangible experiences of faith to scripture stories about Jesus and describes Christian living in a way that can help someone else relate faith in Jesus to their own life. Isn’t that what we are trying to do when we point?
. .
I’m guessing you have experienced those guides in parks who merely gave you factual statements about the place you were visiting. They told you the history of the area, or what battles happened at this site, or how many sheep used to live on the island. These guides are like Christians who quote scripture without any explanation that relates to their own lives. It’s fine for audiences who are only interested in information but it doesn’t ‘grab’ a person’s heart.

A guide who really POINTS, give us a way to connect ourselves to the place we visit. The link may be an emotional connection that we feel for wild animals. The link may be an intellectual curiosity we have regarding the habitat or personal memories of vacations at the shore. But without some link to our personal interest and life experience, we just hear words. And we walk away with little curiosity for learning more.

As people who are in love with Jesus and are tasked with the mission of pointing others to him, we need to share our own ‘links’ to Christ.
    - what is it that touches your heart, why do you return here week after week?
    -What meaning does our relationship with God give to our lives?
If we can’t say what we feel and why we are here, we are probably not sure about the place the Christ holds in our lives.
. . .Pointing and commitment go hand in hand.
First we love, then we commit, then we point to show others the way.

We are called by God in the same way that John and Jesus were. 
And just as they both found ways to relate scripture to people’s everyday lives, we need to connect our experience to the enduring themes of God’s love for ALL God’s people. We must ask ourselves, how are we pointing to the Word made flesh?

If we want to make scripture relevant to our friends, we need to shine the light of God's presence into the shadows of human brokenness.

Then we, like Jesus will be
bringing good news to the oppressed,
binding up the brokenhearted,
proclaiming liberty to the captives, and release those imprisoned.3
These are the needs that capture people’s hearts and lives.
. . .
My friend Nancy Ferg shows a lot of people Assateague Island. She says,     "when they say, 'this place is incredible', I know they've been looking where I’m pointing. You can see the spark in their eyes when Assateague’s special beauty captivates them.” 

When have you been captured by Jesus?
What is it about the man who walked the earth with the conscious of God that makes your life meaningful?

I invite you to answer these questions this week.
Write out your own theme of faith. Consider it your gift to Jesus for his birthday.
Put your values, your relationships within this congregation, your needs and your emotions, into words.
Tell me why you care that Christ lived, died and rose again. What does his life mean for yours?
    and what difference do your relationships here make in your life?
What commitments have you made that convey your values and priorities for living?

Many people have answered God’s call over the history of humanity. The gospels hold stories of the themes articulated by people in Jesus’ life.
Mary said her core value in Luke 1:46,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,” or in plainer language, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.”
John’s lived his answer with his life, ‘to point beyond himself to the LIGHT of the WORLD’. He said, “ This is the one of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than me because he existed before me.’ ”.
Jesus own answer to the call of God, was to go to John to be baptized. He committed his life to pointing us to God - so that even after his death, we could know the One he called ‘Father’.
    (even for Jesus, witness began with baptism.)

When we identify the real meaning of faith in our own lives, we can share it with someone else. We can help a friend in their time of crisis, because we know what Christ means in our life. The effect of our interpretation of faith may not be immediately apparent to anyone with whom we share. But if we are sincere and share from our personal experience, we point our friends their own opportunity to ‘see what we see’. 

In this season of giving...Our answer to God’s call is our gift to the one whose birthday we celebrate.

Because after all, the Scriptures can only speak thru us.
My footnotes didn't print. I owe thanks to Nancy Ferguson and to those who create material for guides to interpreting Assateague Island.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Working At Home

I like working from home. On these study days I can get more reading done with less distractions. I can let the creative juices flow as does the coffee. And if I get frustrated, I can grab a vacuum and vent & think with constructive action. But today there's no flow.

I began with reading. I have several, maybe even too many ideas for one worship. I even have an outline for worship that 'should' lead me into the sermon. I walked the dogs over to church to meet the Music Director. I arranged the poinsettias. I took the long way home hoping the crisp air would inspire me. I have my resources spread out on the table and can brew more coffee whenever I want. But I've got nothing flowing.

I sure could use some help, because all I've got left to try is the vacuum - and I really didn't want to go there.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

John, protagonist or peacemaker?

Mark 1:1-8; Protagonist or Peacemaker; Advent II, Yr. B; 12-4-11; ACoB

We finally arrived in Advent last week and it’s a joy to begin singing carols and return to our favorite Christmas scriptures. The church year that began last week has a gospel which is the New Testament focus all year long. This year it is Mark's gospel and I’ll admit it’s a bit of a disappointment.
Instead of a beloved birth story like Luke's angelic hosts & lowly shepherds or  even Matthew's adoring Wisemen, we get John instead; smelly old cousin John.
He has no sheep to herd, - instead he has locusts and other grubs that he eats - yuk.
There are no angelic choirs in Mark’s gospel, we get only John’s loud, rasping voice yelling at us.
That’s John, the antagonist, John, the baptizer and this is what we have for the opening story in Mark.

There is just No Romance to his story. Mark’s author rushes us along into Jesus’ adult life as if to say, “Yeah, he was a cute kid ‘n all, what baby isn’t? Get over it, Jesus grew up and that’s the important part of his story.”

The urgency in Mark means the story moves quickly. The only background we get to Jesus' life is John, the one who wears the hairy hides of animals, (likely smells like them too) and eats bugs and wild honey while he lives in the wilderness. His place in the story is to prepare the way for Jesus. He does so in a protagonist role, the adversary of his culture. He calls out for people to REPENT, turn around, change their ways, so that they/and us will be ready for Jesus.

John’s call to preparation reminded me that I still have some Prep-work to do for Christmas. And with John’s cries still in my head, I dug out my manger scene and decided that the only way to be ‘true to the context of Mark’ was to put John in front of my nativity scene. You’ll remember that my nativity already has a zebra in it, just to remind me that God’s story is not always what we, I need a little John the Baptist. So I found some rough fabric to make this guy a tunic and I put him in front of the typical manager scene because John prepares the way.

But like a kiwi fruit in a bowl of apples, ‘one thing here is not like the others...’
...John just doesn’t fit the season.

I think My traditional nativity scene is ruined by his presence. He may belong in the wilderness but he doesn’t belong in Bethlehem. John bothers me. I can’t hear the soft sounds of Silent Night over his repeated cry to REPENT. and I can’t quite forget his words. What I want to do, is SWEEP him under the rug.
    (place John under a small rug)

As long as I’m objecting to this year’s gospel, I think I disagree with Mark’s hurried beginning to Jesus’ story, too. The Way of Advent shouldn’t be rushed, (although I often feel that way, myself.) The point of Advent is to slow us down, to give us time to prepare. Our preparations shouldn’t be loud, except when the bells are ringing their rejoicing. (Or I’ve got Christmas Carols playing at high volume in my car.) I don’t want a ‘hairy naturalist’ stirring things up. I want the Peace on Earth that God intends for the Christmas Season without the pushy evangelist. But Mark says, John’s call IS the way to Jesus. Mark story doesn’t have time for lesser details - he can’t wait long enough for a baby to grow up.

Mark goes straight to the important part of Jesus’ life. He wants to get right into the latest episode of God's saving story. So he gives us John.!John is like the insistent voice of a GPS Unit, trying to get us back on the right path, saying, "turn around - NOW!"

I spent some time on the ‘wrong path’ this week. I had a meeting in Maryland on Wednesday. I had planned my way with Google Maps, but ended up following my GPS Unit a different way. I was concerned when I realized I had left my planned route, but it worked out surprisingly well. So, after my meeting, I decided to let the GPS take me home.
It took me on a completely different route, than either of the paths over to MD!

I drove straight downtown. I was on Rhode Island Avenue for awhile, & the GPS directed me through 3 or 4 roundabouts.
I had to turn left on a numbered street,
and right on lettered street.
I got so lost that I had no choice but to stay with my GPS directions and trust that it would lead me the right way out of town. I don’t know my way without a map so it all felt like a maze of confusion. .

My week continue with twists and turns. On Friday, I walked a Labyrinth. A labyrinth is not a maze because it has only one path. (show vinyl) In stead of having to FIND the right way thru it, there is a single path that one follows IN to the center, and then back out It is a carefully twisted path that will keep you turning back and forth in complete u-turns until you can’t see the way ahead beyond a few steps. The Difference between the two is a maze has one right way and many wrong ways, in a labyrinth, there is only one way, you just have to stay on the path.

John the Baptist advocates U-turns, that’s what he means when he cries, "Repent", = literally, ‘turn-around’. While he is correcting our direction, he points beyond himself. He urges us to continue on, we shouldn’t be distracted by his appearance, instead we are compelled to enter the wilderness by being baptized. It is THEN that we will encounter the One To Come. 
John puts himself in a servant’s place by declaring he would stoop & kneel before Jesus and still not be worthy. Even he is merely one directional sign on the road to Jesus. John, the 1st century GPS, wants us on the Road to Jesus; there’s only ONE WAY and it’s the Advent Way.

John’s own commitment is to be the calling one, the guide that gets people on the single path. His own radicalness of wild clothes and subsistence diet remind me that I too have made a commitment - when I was baptized. It’s a commitment with a cost. In order to walk the Jesus’ Way, I have to give up all other paths. And when I get lost or headed the wrong way, I need to ‘turn around’.

Like the rest of our busy world, I don’t really mind the call of this season to stop and visit the Christmas story. I look forward to the quiet of Christmas Eve and some contemplation of the holy moment when Jesus arrived. But John calls me away even from that important connection. He keeps me from falling asleep as I look at the ‘infant lowly’ and instead is the somewhat annoying voice saying “turn here”, “get back to walking the path.”

In all fairness, John didn’t choose his path, he is answering a higher call also. He is given a vision of the road to the kind of peace and justice we all desire. He is actually turning us back to where we belong, not away. It is the world that pulls us into different priorities and dead-end routes. We are on the same side as John. His turn-around call brings us back to the path where hope exists the lowly one. We find our proper place when we kneel before Jesus. And surprisingly we also experience a soul-level peace.

The reason John’s call annoys me so much is that I know he is right. My destination hasn’t changed, I’ve just gotten turned around so much that I can’t see the way ahead. When you walk the path of a Labyrinth, there are times just when you think you are almost to the center destination only to turn back in the opposite direction. Finally, as I turned and walked, I realized that the destination IS the path. It’s not a place we strive to get to, it’s a way of life.
The Jesus’ Way.

When I gave in to the voice of my GPS, & turned on 27th Street, let it led me onto M, & I took a final turn and saw a sign for Rt. 66 ahead. There - just around the curve was the bridge and on the far side a sign for Arlington Blvd.,      I was almost home.

In Advent, by the time we see the sign of Jesus, John has fallen back out of sight. He served his purpose of turning us around. He gets us on the path so that WE ARE ready for Jesus.

(Pick up John.) I guess John belongs in my nativity scene after all, or a least until it’s time for Jesus to appear. By then we’d better ALL be on the way.