I remember the dismay I felt as a child, as the days in December moved ever closer to the 25th, being instructed by my mother to “Sort out my bedroom”. This was for her, an annual declaration of war, against clutter and general disorder. In our home, as in millions of others, Christmas was different, so it needed to look different, and we needed to make room for it to be different. Out went the old and unused items and toys, to be given away to local charities, to make room for the new. Change was anticipated and so preparations were made to make room for that change. I always found this such a challenge as I was convinced, that one day that certain ‘thing’ will most certainly be needed and should, therefore, quite sensibly, be retain. My wife Sarah, my children and my friends will tell you that this is still deeply ingrained in my psyche. A quick look behind the garage door will confirm this!
But the reality and the necessity of clearing out the old to make way for the new was valid then and it is valid now; just as it was valid for those hearing the words of ‘John the Baptist’. His cry, however, was directed to a spiritual ‘de-tox’ and inner preparation rather than to any contemporary physical ‘downsizing’ or ‘clutter cleansing’.
John spoke of a ‘baptism of repentance’, a symbolic washing of a person’s life to announce their preparedness for the arrival of the much-anticipated Messiah. Jews were familiar with baptism, but this was always for Gentiles, (non-Jews), who wanted to accept the Jewish faith. To see it as being a relevant process for themselves to engage in is quite remarkable, as it centred around confession. Confession to themselves of the reality of their need for God, confession to any people they had hurt along the way, and fundamentally, confession to God himself. The first step of truly experiencing the power and love of God in our lives is acknowledging our very real need of him. Everyone needs forgiveness and the pivotal moment of freedom and release in your life and mine, is accepting that gift from Jesus. Removing the worn and damaged obstacles in our lives to create space for God himself to do something wonderfully new and exciting.
Yet despite the level of self-disclosure required, Mark’s gospel account informs us that the response to John’s message and appeal was literally, massive!
I wonder why? Perhaps it was because the timing was right. The people had been waiting for an authentic word from God for 500 years and now they were hearing it. Perhaps it was because his message was confronting them with a decision that they knew in their deepest heart that they needed to make; or perhaps it was because John and his message were authentic. He didn’t just ‘talk the talk’ but he ‘walked the walk’ as well. His life symbolised everything he was saying to them. His actions became such a part of him that his name was accompanied by a description that characterised his behaviour. ‘Baptiser’. What a challenge to us all. How, I wonder, might the world characterise my behaviour, or yours? Does it point to God? Does it lead others to Jesus?
In a contemporary world that is so suspicious and cautious of commitment to anything other than self, John reminds us that there is something else, someone else, greater to look to and to build our lives upon. John’s life continually directed others to one greater than himself and encouraged them to experience so much more than they were doing.
Are you ready for that?
If you have never taken that step, I wonder what is holding you back?
Dare you miss out on everything that God is promising you?
With the Lord’s blessing.
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale