A mighty river of the Spirit: Advent 3

John the Baptist was in a hurry.  He lived in the wilderness near the Dead Sea and subsisted on a starvation diet.  He wore clothes even the Thrift Store wouldn’t have sold.  He was in a hurry and he didn’t mince words, they were all fire and brimstone and alarmingly direct!  Not a poet.

He was in a hurry because the kingdom was coming but it wasn’t going to be a church potluck with all the right people participating.  The best way to get ready for the kingdom was to clean up your act, get baptized, and start serving your neighbour’s good instead of just pleasing yourself. 

But John’s greatest moment, I think, was the day he pointed to Jesus and said, He must increase, but I must decrease.’  (John 3.30)

And about John, Jesus later said, ‘I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."    (Luke 7.28)

Where John said you had better save yourself before it’s too late, Jesus said God was like a Father saving those who couldn’t save themselves, even prodigals who blew their whole inheritance on booze and sex.  Where John crossed to the other side of the street to avoid any sinners heading his way, Jesus seems to have preferred the company of down and outers, tax collectors and people of ill repute.  John baptized, Jesus healed.

John makes us uncomfortable but he is crucial for Advent.  We who are relatively affluent and comfortable do not expect his frank speech, nor do we welcome it.  But John promises that if we will be open to it, we may be visited by a spirit of openness, generosity, and newness that we had not imagined.  ‘The one coming after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’     Advent may be more than we ever imagined!


O brave wilderness voice,

prophet of the Highest,

            come among our markets

            and consuming passions

and rebuke with your cry

            our modern addictions

            and frantic fashions.


O lonely, rough-hewn soul,

speaker of hard truths,

            axe our mad, fruitless boasts

            and viperous displays;

call us to that repentance

            which we have deftly dodged

            under pious cliches.


O smoother of crude ways,

mover of black mountains,

            tread down our pampered pride

            and cultured discontent;

straighten our twisted days

            until each childlike hope

            skips to meet the Advent.

[Bruce Prewer]