Third Sunday of Advent | John 1:6-8, 19-28
The Edge of Our World
John the Baptist never claimed anything. At least, he didn’t claim anything that seemed to matter to the ones who asked.
He was somebody, though. That much was clear, or they wouldn’t have been asking.
He was out in the wild places, down by the river, and crowds of people were treking 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, and let this wild looking man either plunge you into the water or pour the water over your head. (They weren’t particular about how it was done in the beginning: those arguments started much later.)
Maybe, like the song says, they really want to know. It is more likely that they really want to get rid of him. Nobody rues competition quite like religious folk.
John claims nothing, except one thing. He claims to be a voice crying out in the wilderness, like the prophet Isaiah described.
More questions. Are you the Messiah? Elijah? The prophet? No, no, and no. Only a voice in the wilderness.
Then John adds one more thing. Someone else is coming, he says. Someone else is standing in the midst of you all, and you haven’t seen him. And he is much greater than I.
You are asking the wrong question. That is what John is telling them. The question isn’t, Who are you? The question is, Who else is here?
Who else is waiting at the edge of the world?
That is where they found John, after all, at the edge. He wasn’t completely in the wild places where no one goes, 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 also stood at the edge of society. He 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 no cutting the hair. That gives you a stone cold sober guy wearing camel hair and leather, eating locusts, with hair hanging down around his knees. And this guy is standing in the river. Preaching.
This 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, our habitual comfort zone.
If God is going to touch our lives, God will start at our edges. Perhaps it is because our center is already so full of activity that not even God can find room. Or perhaps it is because our center does not 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.
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, our waiting may turn into a journey out to the edge where God is also waiting for us.
Photos by Granny™