They might think to themselves, as important thoughts do, Who is this intruder? But, knowing how thoughts think, I'm thinking that they also might be a tad curious about what the ruff-around-the-edges have to say.
What did people think when they heard about a man who spoke his mind, saying, "Prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight;" and, "Valleys will be filled, mountains will be lowered, crooked places will be straightened, and rough ways smoothed."
I wonder what they were thinking when they heard him for themselves, saying, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance. And don't even begin to say to yourselves, 'It's all good! We've got Abraham!'" It's almost as if John the Baptist knew what the people were thinking, and I imagine they shifted uncomfortably.
"God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now," John continued while the people were deciding what they thought about this wild looking man wearing camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, snacking on locusts and wild honey, and possibly carrying an ax, "even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree," I imagine how he might have pointed his ax at them to indicate every tree, "which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
The passage continues, "So the people asked him, 'What shall we do then?'"
I don't think that the question was all scrubbed and polished and proper sounding, but rather on the panicky side.
Maybe he had two camel's hair cloaks so that he could wash one while wearing the other. Maybe he had an extra pouch of locusts tucked into his leather belt. "He answered and said to them, 'He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.'"Then maybe, when he heard the soldiers ask what they should do, he lowed his ax before answering, "Do not intimidate anyone."
That's setting things straight.
John the Baptist
Then there was Jesus; intruder before He was yet born. His presence was undeniable as Mary's belly swelled. His intrusion divided Mary's family, Joseph's heart, and the entire town of Nazareth before He was born. It was awkward, painful, ostracizing, and frightening. Those who wanted to believe what Mary said about her pregnancy must have had a crisis of faith. Maybe they thought to themselves, "Mary is either highly favored of God, or is lowest sinner deserving to be stoned to death."
Joseph woke from a dream with holy reassurance and direction.
Elizabeth believed. After all, she carried John the Baptist.I can only imagine what he was like as a boy. "Mamma! Look!" And Elizabeth would gasp as little Johnny dips a locust in honey and pops it into his mouth.
Mary delivered a baby, who was also God incarnate, would save people from hell, raise people from the dead and would, Himself, be raised from the dead. "Mamma! Look!" And Mary would gasp as little boy Jesus holds a fistful of nails in His chubby little palm.
I'm thinking about these things, and about how the tension felt between conviction and confession, hearing what to do and doing it, seeing and believing, and the birth of light into darkness is as the surface film covering the body of water-the skin-that John baptized Jesus in.
I think about how Jesus came into the world-how membrane broke and water gushed-and I wonder aloud to God, "Are we, as men and women made in Your image and born as flesh from flesh through water, introduced at our birth as even Your own Son was introduced at His birth, to the baptismal announcement that the repentant make to the world regarding their true break the water open, bury me in it and raise me up from it new-birth announcement?"
Maybe the thought is intrusive in some circles, but I do think it. "Is infant baptism a copy of the baptism which John called the repentant to?"
I was baptized as an infant, and I kinda wish I'd thought to ask this question back when I was confused about whether or not I ought to be baptized again.
Maybe the type was set when God decided that babies would be born through broken waters.
He who knew not the confines of skin and bones and flesh, was born and wore it.
He who wore glory, wore skin.
He who wore holiness, wore sin.
He who saved mankind,was Son-of-God kind of Man.
He who tells us to bear our cross, was crucified on His.
He who slept in manger hay, is manger in Whom I stay.
Son of Man, God and flesh,
Son of God, my righteousness!
Was sin, more bitter than rancid gall,
Given so that I would fall?
Is sin's purpose, every hour,
To nurture hatred toward its power?
To drive its point till I distress,
And know my need for righteousness?
Were the nails in each hand
Pounded there by Your command?
You say they were, but ,"Why?" I say,
"Why did You let sin rule that way?"
"How else would you know My love?
What else would get you looking up?"
"You let sin reign so I would see
What sin's devoted to do to me?"
The thought is rough to realize,
But Love will not be compromised.
Love once gave Himself to flesh,
That I might hate unrighteousness,
Yet, hating sin is not repentance,
Does not lead to true confession.
"I love You more," I say to Him,
"I love You more than I hate my sin."
Seems the greatest purpose for sin is that I get to a point in life when I hate it.
Yet, that's not enough.
It's not enough to hate sin so much that I want nothing to do with it. That's not what John the Baptist said. He said nothing about hating sin, but about repenting. And aren't the two as relatives who don't keep the same company? Hate sin all I want, but nothing changes, not really, till I tell the truth about sin. That's what confession is, after all. It's just telling the truth.
"Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another," I hear this holy whisper bustling about the books in the Holy Scriptures.
"Where is that coming from, exactly?" I ask the Way, the Truth, and the Light-the Lord.
"James." He rustles my memory.
I turn to James; and holy thoughts written there are the radical kinds which jab their elbows into the ribs of some well-mannered souls, if thoughts have elbows and if souls have ribs.
"And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (James 5:15). I read it, and whisper it in italics back to the One who said it first.
"There's more," He whispers back to me.
I read on, "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed."
"Lord!" My excited whisper is the child-like kind that gets hushed in quiet churches. "The things You say! They're outlandish!" If I wore white gloves, I'd be pulling them off right about now.
He flicks a glance at my dirty fingernails. I've been keeping company with John the Baptist. "Woman," He's not whispering anymore. A whisper's too small to hold His emotion. He knows my thoughts and empathizes and no one dares hush Him.
He knows I'm thinking about my friends.
The woman in a wheelchair, consumed by Lupus, which is Latin for the wolf.
The young woman running marathons sponsoring Multiple Sclerosis patients, because she's recently been diagnosed as a patient, too.
The woman I grew up with whose crippled side is intruding more than ever before in her life.
The young woman whose mind hasn't been well, and the mother with emotional paralysis and heart muscles torn to shreds.
These are my friends. We stand as those who stood at river-side, listened to John the Baptist, and asked, "What shall we do?" not because we aren't repentant and baptized, but because his message about how to prepare the way of the Lord-by making the crooked straight and the jagged level-is as Christ's message about how to live it.
There's faith that saves the sick and confession that heals the sinner. I read it in James.
There's tension in these words. I feel it because I've heard them scrambled up and delivered something like, "If the sick have enough faith, then they'll be healed; and if sinners confess, then they'll be saved."
That's not what I read, but I've heard it so many times that it can be as confusing as baptism to those who are born again, after they were baptized as infants.
I don't like to intrude. It's tense, for me.
Yet, I am ragamuffin who wants to live the unscrambled truth.
written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig