The Second Week of Advent: The Coming of John

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” (Mark 1:1-3)

We are coming close to being two weeks away from Christmas, and I am sure earnest preparations are underway. But also need to prepare ourselves – but not quite as much as the people of Jesus’ time needed to be prepared. These verses from Mark, though, are not about the preparation of the baby Jesus but of the adult Jesus who was on the cusp of beginning his ministry. John the Baptist was to prepare the people for the coming of the adult Christ. But John the Baptist also calls us to preparation, both for the baby Jesus and for the adult Jesus.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mark : 4 & 5)

It can be confusing, and maybe a little humbling, to confess our sins to a baby, even if the baby is divine. But the first needed action of confession to confess that we need the baby Jesus; and just maybe some innocence and wonder in our lives. We talk about seeing Christmas through a child’s eyes; that does not mean wishing and dreaming about a catalog of toys. It means seeing and appreciating simple things, innocent things, and giving thanks for them.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1: 6-8)

John the Baptist must have cut quite a figure in those times – and would probably more so in our contemporary times. John made them, and can make us, stop and think. Something wondrous is coming; are we ready? We do not want to be caught unprepared for this wondrous thing. Just as we prepare for the coming of a baby, or the coming of an honored house guest, we need to prepare ourselves for Christ. During Advent the appearance of John means that our own internal and spiritual preparations need to be under way. May you be prepared, beloved reader. Selah!

EXCESSIVE EATING/DRINKING . . . But how do you define “excess”?

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
(Reference: Matthew 24:37-39 )

If one were to judge the historic Anabaptists by one representative (the one who wrote on this verse), one would say the historic Anabaptists did not hold much with eating and drinking, marrying and raising families. He wrote to his daughter, “Even as Noah had warned and preached, before the flood came, so Christ preached, and caused His apostles to preach, repentance, and still causes it to be done daily, by me, unworthy one, your beloved father, and by other servants of Christ. But what does it avail them? not many repent; they remain with the great multitude; we are lightly esteemed, for we are a plain, small and unlearned people. But Christ could well foresee the hardness of the people; hence He says in the Gospel: “As it was in the days, or times, of Noah; they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until Noah entered into the ark; so shall it also be in the coming of the Son of man,” that is, Jesus Christ. Matt. 24:37.”

Perhaps he meant that no one did, or does, take special not of living according to Christ’s teachings. And only concerns themselves with things of the flesh. (Shades of previous themes.) But Jesus, who the writer of Matthew is having speak, did not say this as condemnation, but as fact. Everyone was going about their ordinary lives never thinking that it would come to an abrupt end, and that judgment was swiftly coming to them. That is how it often is with life changing events. And often we do not even know they are life changing, or that they should be life changing! That is a sad thing about the Christian life – when people forget that in the midst of their eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage they should be doing it as Christians and authentic followers of God. Not that they, or we, should stop living; but that we should do it in such a manner that it reflects God’s mission for the world.

Five years ago Will Fitzgerald (the originator of this blog) posted a wonderful story based on the story of Noah. I do not know if he wrote it or found it elsewhere – my suspicion is that he did write it. It speaks to the very heart of living life and not knowing when it has changed unalterably. And it speaks to being prepared – not so much for our lives to continue as they were but to be prepared for the changes that come, and prepared for new life in the world to come. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did when I first read it five years ago and when I rediscovered it this day. Selah!

It was a day like any other day, except for the rain. We’d never seen such rain.

I woke a little early because of the sound of the rain. It was a good thing, too, I thought; the rivulet that had been running through the chicken yard had turned into something more like a river, and the rushing water was eating away at the coop’s foundations. I think if I hadn’t got there when I did, the coop would have tipped over. By the time I had shored it up, I was hungry.

I’d taken to breaking fast with my neighbor, Seth, since both our wives had died. The bread was getting a bit moldy from all the dampness, but it was edible. Seth had just returned from attending the marriage ceremony of his second daughter’s oldest son; a number of his kin from that generation were of marriage age, so it was a season of weddings for Seth. Even all the rain couldn’t dampen his enthusiasm.

Seth told me a strange story: he’d heard that a man we knew when we were all children had built a large boat. He said the rain would continue until it drowned us all, and that he was planning to enter the boat with his family and ride out the storm. No one had ever seen such a boat, which was large enough for all kinds of animals. We decided to go to see it; it was a few hours walk away.

The way was somewhat more difficult because of the water. We had to ford several new creeks, and we found a couple of people who needed help, so we helped them out as best we could. By the time we got to the boat, it was nearing noon. We didn’t get a chance to talk to Noah, actually; we could see him entering the boat with his family from a distance. And here’s one strange thing: the door to the boat seemed to close on its own. When we arrived, we knocked at the door, but it appeared that it had been shut up with pitch. No matter how hard we knocked and shouted, no one heard us, apparently.

We then heard a kind of roar, and could see a flood of water rising towards us. We moved as quickly as we could to higher land, until we could look down at the rising waters and the large boat. The water eventually started to rise the boat, and it began to float. We again tried to shout down to the boat, but even if the sound of the rain hadn’t covered our voices, I think we would have been too far to have been heard.

We had to go even higher as the water increased. I thought about my chickens; they were probably gone.

We’ve made a camp at the top of this high hill. We don’t have much protection from the rain as it falls, and I don’t know if the water when the water will stop rising. We’ll be in trouble pretty soon. I wish I were on that boat of Noah’s.

It was a day like any other day, except for all the rain.

God’s Nature – What you prepare for, you will get

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” (Romans 2:5-7)

On Monday November 5th I will be having my last day of rest at home before returning to work. I am pretty sure I have not said anything before because . . . well, writing in advancing sort of sets up a time paradox. What I am experiencing as I write these blogs, is actually past history as you read them. So while you were reading the entry of Thursday November 1st, I was making sure all the preparations for surgery were done. While you were reading the entry for Friday November 2nd, I was either going into surgery, out of surgery, or back home. And because I am writing this a good many days before surgery is even scheduled, I cannot tell you how it went. So why did I even mention it? Let me tell you.

These verses from Romans illustrate two possible life positions. One – an un-named person has been stubborn most of his/her life. At every turn he/she has set him/herself up against God and God’s guidance. Not only have they flaunted God at each turn, they have allowed what ever ill-will and evil that this has caused to build up and further their contrary ways. It almost seems like they have prepared themselves to harshly judged by God’s wrath. Or, two – an un-named person has placed him/herself under God’s guidance. At each turn, critical and general, they have sought God’s guidance and plan for themselves and those around them. Not only have they sought to do God’s will, but they have worked so that God is glorified by their lives. And when asked who controls them and to whom their allegiance is to, they answer that God is their Lord. It almost seems that they have prepared themselves to be worthy of God’s favor and receive eternal life.

Now for the application. I could have just picked any day to have my surgery. But I picked at time of the month that I knew I could take time off from work and recuperate and heal. I could have had the surgery done and then hope I was up to the daily tasks of home and work, but I am planning down to the last detail what will happen and what I will do. I could have just waited to see what my recovery would be like, but instead I am preparing my family to take charge of the household, and preparing myself to do little or nothing. And finally, I could have kept quiet about it with extended family and friends, but instead I am spreading the word.

And on my doctor’s side, I am sure she is also preparing for surgery, reviewing my case. I anticipate phone calls from a surgical nurse and an anesthetist who will help me prepare and help the surgical procedure to be ready. We are all preparing for success.

So the question is, gentle reader, what are you preparing for? In the media there is the new of a tremendous storm that is expected to come ashore sometime in the last days of October or the first days of November. Again, because I am writing in advance I do not know when it will happen or how severe the weather will be. But by the time you read this, all of that will be known. We prepare for both the things that will come and the things that may come. We strive to be as prepared as possible. So again, gentle reader, I ask you – what are you preparing for?

May the Spirit’s wisdom and the Lord’s guidance help you to be prepared as well as possible for the things that come in this life . . . . and the life to come. Selah!