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Desert preacher

by davesandel on January 2nd, 2020

Desert preacher

Thursday, January 2, 2020

There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.

– From John 1

John is preaching? But John was just born! Our lectionary can confuse things, when I forget that lots of time passes in between the words. Year by year, John like Jesus becomes a man. Like many deep thinkers, they both begin to spend more and more time alone in the desert.

John was born under the call of his father’s words: “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”

Was this Lord the baby Jesus, about to be born? Elizabeth certainly thought so. Whether or not Zechariah had the same idea, he knew what the Lord would do: “He will give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”

So that is what John preached from atop a rock – first to the few, then to more and finally to multitudes of men and women and children, families who sometimes walked for days to hear John’s voice, fall down in tears and repentance, and experience John’s water baptism.

John had no idealistic thoughts about the leaders of those to whom he preached. Later Jesus called them “blind guides” and now John’s words were no less biting. “You brood of vipers!” he cried out at them. He left no doubt who he was talking about when he foretold God “burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

These angry righteous words kindled fires of revival, through which Jesus strode quietly.  He listened with the others, but did not go back like them into the towns and cities. He spent his time alone, like John, away in the desert, praying.

What were Jesus’ prayers before his baptism? Did his Father shape his thoughts? Margaret is grateful for her silent retreat time, when thoughts that come to her can germinate and mature. When she is living fully in each moment like this, she has all the time in the world. Is that how it was for Jesus?

Did Jesus know he was the one that John talked about? He found no difficulty in tying his own sandals, and never expected help from John or anyone else. But of course John just sought word pictures to describe the gulf between Messiah and the rest.

In his own silence Zechariah came to know God’s joy in what he was about to do: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and the shadow of death, he will guide our feet into the path of peace” (all from Luke 1).

Now in my own darkness, Lord, in the desert you offer me, I glimpse the quiet flames of tender mercy that are always there. You are never far away, and in every time of trouble I know I’m welcome to sit with you beside the fire.

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