The Edge of Our World | John 1:6-8, 19-28
John the Baptist never claimed anything. At least, he didn’t claim anything that seemed to matter to the people who asked about such things.
He was somebody, though. That much was clear, or they wouldn’t have been asking.
He lived in the wild places, down by the river, and crowds of people trekked out to hear what he had to say, to make a new beginning, to let him baptize them—an odd enough ritual when you think about it. Say a prayer. Stand in the river. Let this wild looking man either plunge you into the river or pour the water over your head. (They weren’t particular about how it was done in the beginning; those arguments started much later.)
When crowds of people went out to John, their leaders followed them. After watching the crowd and listening to John long enough, they managed to ask, “Who are you?”
Maybe, like the song says, they really wanted to know. It’s more likely that they really wanted to get rid of him. Nobody rues competition quite like religious folk and politicians. They wanted to know who he was.
Are you the Messiah? No. Elijah? No. The prophet? No, no, and no.
I’m only a voice in the wilderness, says John. It’s the only claim he makes about himself. Then John adds one more thing. Someone else is coming, he says. Someone else is standing in the midst of you all, in plain sight. You haven’t even noticed. And he is much greater than I.
You’re asking the wrong question. That’s what John is telling them. The question isn’t, Who are you? The question is, Who else is here?
Who else is waiting in the wilderness? Who lives at the edge of our world?
That’s where they found John, after all. At the edge. He wasn’t so far in the wild places that nobody could find him, but he wasn’t calling out his message in the city streets. John, this harbinger of God, was out on the edge of the world, where people had to make an effort to go, out beyond their normal haunts and habits. He stood at the edge of their world and talked about God.
John dressed in a queer fashion, and he ate strange things. According to the Gospel of Luke, John may have taken vows as a nazirite—no wine, a limited diet, and perhaps never cutting his hair. Twenty or thirty years of that, and you get a stone cold sober guy wearing camel hair and leather, eating locusts and honey. Hair hanging down around his knees. Standing in the river. Preaching.
That is the man God sent to announce the coming of the Messiah, at the edge of the world.
If we are going to encounter God, we may need to change our expectations. Finding some sense of the Other may require that we step away from our routine. We’ve got to leave our habitual comfort zone.
When God touches our lives, God starts at our edges. Perhaps it’s because our center is already so full of activity that not even God can find room. Or perhaps it’s because our center doesn’t map onto God’s center. Just as God is not the center of our world—be honest—neither are we the center of God’s world. Again, be honest—did you think you were?
God’s world does not revolve around us. Like Galileo, we have to look to a different orbit. If we are to encounter the Holy, it will be where we have not been looking. If Advent is about waiting for God, waiting may turn into a journey to the edge. That is where God is waiting for us.
Photos by Granny™