December 9, 2012 Advent 2
We do not always welcome those who claim to be bringing a message from God. It may be that we listen to them because we are polite or curious, or both. But it doesn’t take very long before you want to get out the room and occasionally it’s for good reason. We only need to think for a moment of the horrific things that have been done by those who claim to be “bringing a message from God.” There mind flinches with a quick spin around the world and the blood spread by those who claim to be God’s messengers.
Yet, Herb Driscoll, an Irish pastor and writer, asks whether it is wise to dismiss each and everyone who claims to be bringing a prophetic message from God. Take, for instance, the mostly forgotten Alexander Solzhenitsyn the Russian novelist, who arrived at Harvard University direct from the Soviet Union to deliver a set of lectures to the West. Driscoll reminds us that Solzhenitsyn’s character had been formed by the harsh conditions of the Soviet Gulag whose icy winds were as brutal as the brutal heat of the Middle Eastern desert were another prophet, John the Baptist, was formed. Both had a sharp message to deliver to an audience they believed has grown complacent and morally lazy. Solzhenitsyn delivered a passionate, strident uncompromising moral challenge to an audience that he believed embodied the decline of the West into apathy and slack-jawed acceptance of all that was morally wrong. Similarly, John the Baptist sharply denounced the moral depravity of King Herod and all his cohorts. (See the Christian Century December 1, 2003.)
Both returned from their assignments downcast. Of Solzhenitsyn, Driscoll says, “he returned to his homeland dispirited and humbled, no less sure of his convictions but defeated, not so much by an immoral West as by a place where the very idea of the moral had become a matter for discussion at cocktail parties or simply dismissed with contempt. For his prophetic word, John the Baptist was thrown into a filthy dungeon in chains. His head later offered on a platter as a silly gift from a mad king to an equally depraved daughter. Neither prophet saw the moral transformation of a people as result of their bearing witness for God. They ended in dismissal.
Why so much attention to this one who brought such an uncompromising message of moral challenge? Perhaps, because Jesus, whom some scholars believe took over the mantle of John, offered of him the highest praise. “among those born of women no one is greater, yet he least in the kingdom is greater than he.” We don’t fully know the relationship between the two; only that Jesus accorded him the highest praise and commended John for his work.
So, Driscoll, says, “We need to know why. We need to know what it is about him this messenger that commends him so deeply to our Lord.” Knowing that perhaps we will have some criteria to measure the validity of others who claim to be bearing a message from God.
What’s important to note is that the messenger for God is always pointing away from himself toward Jesus. He has a specific vocation and is not at all about his own work but only the work of God. Make no mistake, his message is white-hot moral reformation; yet we dare not forget that the message that John brings is persistently never about himself, it’s always about Jesus.
He stretches out his boney finger pointing toward Jesus. “He must increase, while I decrease.” This is our clue that this messenger is authentic.
Our place on earth is marked by shadows and light. It is here that John the Baptist tells us the kingdom of heaven in near, very near. From the tips of his toes to the marrow of his bones, John knows that nothing could possibly more urgent than preparing for this kingdom that has come and is coming in Jesus.
Even when later he was imprisoned in Herod’s dungeon awaiting execution, John struggling with his faith under assault by fatigue and soul-numbing doubt sends a message to Jesus, “Are you the one is to come or should we be looking for another?” It’s the plaintive cry of one who seeks to be faithful to the one who “must increase.” Even in the turmoil of faith and doubt, languishing in prison, the messenger points away from himself.
Is this why you and I pay attention this messenger who comes bearing a white-hot message from God? It’s a message we dismiss at our own peril. What are you and I to do if the kingdom is near? Ask yourselves this question. A kingdom where justice and peace embrace, where the weapons of war are fashioned into instruments that till the earth and feed the poor,; a realm where all the wounds of humanity and all our broken hearts are healed, where the justice of mercy shall the rule the earth, where strangers and mortal enemies from every land and race sit at God’s table in peace. Ask yourselves, what else is more important than living in the light of day? What on earth could be more compelling? Shouldn’t all this be guiding people of faith when everyone is crying over the fiscal cliff? We are preparing for a much great day.
So here we are again, brothers and sisters in mid-Advent.
Believing at full stretch, we
stand on our tiptoes,
the eyes of our hearts open wide, gazing
across the ruins of a cluttered cultural landscape
with hearts beating, our eyes following
the boney finger of God’s messenger,
pointing always toward Jesus and there,
resting our gaze up upon him,
await his coming day.