I am blogging this Advent from #decolonizelutheranism’s Advent devotional, Shut Up. (That would be the sanitized version)
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John would not pass muster in a Protestant confession in North America or Europe today. He would not be licensed, or approved, or allowed to administer sacraments.
He is not respectable. He does not live the way respectable people should live. Has he been to seminary and received proper accreditation? Does he have
(or even want) health insurance and a retirement account? Does he make hospital visits or spend time with shut ins? Does he used the most recent curricula in teaching our middle schoolers the rudiments of faith? Does he stroke the egos of his biggest donors so they keep giving? Does he understand the bourgeois need to live a well-ordered life as a sign of the grace of God? No.
John understands none of this. He would, at best, be politely shown the door, the kind of person our overflowing rhetoric of welcome would not actually welcome.
But John does understand something. Something the religious people of his day clearly don’t.
“And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins [ἐξομολογούμενοι τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν.]”
John knows there’s a hunger in the land — in its town and cities, among the people — to know that sins can be forgiven. To confess that sin, and to receive a sign, the cleaning waters of baptism, that sin is forgiven, that God is proclaiming redemption and forgiveness right here and right now.
John knows. He proclaims this simple thing, and a world aching to have hope goes to him, in the wilderness, to receive a sign of that hope. From a man who has nothing but what God gave him — a prophetic word, a divine promise, and a place to show the very physical reality of both.
He’s also clear — “I am not the promise.” John understands this as well. He not only proclaims signs, he is a sign. His life, disreputable as it is, is a sign. Of yet more divine disrepute. Of death and suffering. Of rising and ascending. John will lose his head because he dared to point out the sinfulness of the man who ruled Judea.
But that is yet to come. Until then, let us go to the water with him. Let us hope with him. Let us confess with him. That one is coming. To redeem us. With fire and spirit and truth.