Sometimes the Spirit uses humor to increase our understanding.
New Revised Standard Version translation
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to kneel before him to untie his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
I heard or read this Gospel passage a hundred or more times, yet today it made me laugh out loud. Humor rarely “works” when it is explained, but I’ll give it a go anyway. The NRSV translates the Baptizer as saying that the more powerful one “is coming after me.” I didn’t hear it as subsequent as in: “will ensue, following my ministry,” but as in pursuit; “He’s coming after me!”
It puts the whole event in a very different light. Imagine, if you will, this scruffy, suspicious-looking fellow on the riverbank, repeatedly glancing over his shoulder, “We’ve got to make this quick. He’s coming after me!”
But perhaps that’s not so far off the mark; it evokes the sense of urgency that John proclaimed: “Don’t hesitate, don’t delay. You need to be prepared and ready now. He could be here at any moment!” It’s important for us to remember that the Baptizer doesn’t foresee The Day of the Lord as a walk in the park, but as a Day of Reckoning. It is a serious business.
He’s right, of course.
Christ’s coming into our lives is both a blessing and a … well, not a curse, certainly — but it does bring with it a sort of troubling Spirit. This is the Voice that calls us to a remembrance of who we are and Whose we are: no longer is our life to be lived on our terms, but on God's terms. This Spirit can be a downright nuisance; disrupting our plans, refusing to approve our whims and wants, refuting our prejudices and pronouncements. It counsels us to pray: to pause and consider, to seek the Way of the Lord. And it challenges us to act accordingly, and to commit ourselves to the work that lies before us.
“He’s coming after me!”
What a truly powerful evangelical ( = Good News) statement. This is a serious business. We mustn’t hesitate; it is essential that we not delay for a moment in admitting Christ into our lives. This “admission” is both the giving of Him entry into our hearts and minds and souls; it is also admitting — as real and true and believable — the Gospel that our Lord proclaimed, not with our lips only, but in our thinking and our believing, in our views of today and our visions for tomorrow.
Today, right now, we need to live in the Light, actively repudiating the gloom and melancholy of the Destroyer who sows alienation and antagonism, fear and futility; the evil impulse that works against the good, that tears down, that kills the body and the soul. It casts its shadow over everything around us. It seeks our surrender.
God’s Word is the last word, and that Word is Christ Jesus, crucified and risen. Risen — alive and filled with grace and power. Despite the worldly Principalities efforts to destroy him — though they did everything in their power to negate God’s will, to silence the Voice of healing and hope — God answered with authority: with an almighty, earth-shaking, mind-boggling, invincible blast of LIFE. This Divine force literally blew the doors off the tomb. That Light shall not be extinguished.
In Him was Life, and that life was the Light of all humanity.
The Light shines in the darkness — and the darkness did not,
has not, and will not overcome it.
~ John 1:4-5
The radiant glory of God’s life-giving power defeats death in all its forms. And we, as Christ’s followers, are the Light Brigade: bearers of the Good News, proclaimers of God’s dominion over all that is. We are a force to be reckoned with; well-able to bless and heal, to encourage and comfort, to restore and build up.
And yet we hesitate. We dither, we delay, we doubt. We cannot imagine that we have any genuine power or influence. “I am only….” a mere mortal, a single human being; not physically strong, politically connected, or possessed of worldly riches. We shrug, we sigh, we surrender.
What foolishness! We forget ourselves. Worse: we forget our God, forget that the Creator, the Almighty, cherishes us, sustains us, and has given us gifts and graces and authority over the whole earth (Genesis 1:26; Psalm 8:4-8). We have been given great power — power that can change the world; we have an obligation to use it, and to use it wisely and well.
This is an essential aspect of the need for speed in our Story: it is why we ought to hurry and grasp the challenge and the blessing of Christ today. There is a holy work we are called to: a task wherein, as it turns out, it is equally blessed to give and to receive!
In affirming our faith by courageously and confidently meeting each new day, we carry Christ’s radiant Light into the world and into the lives of others. We can make a difference — we do make a difference! Our work is strengthened by prayer and practice: each day we become more powerful and the beams of Light reach further.
“Let it be with me according to Your Word.”
~ Mary, the Mother of our Lord (Luke 1:38)
Our salvation begins with a “Yes.” I can. I will. I shall.
In the instant of our Yes, the destructive Powers tremble and totter. In the instant of our Yes, we are set free: the spell of negation and annihilation is broken; our thoughts, our faith, our strength is turned into Divine energy — and no longer fuel for evils that seek to capture and control us. God alone claims us, that One only do we serve.
In our Yes we illuminate the Way, that Christ may fully enter in — into our hearts and hopes, and into our world. In His Life we have life — now and in the days to come, and we give life — in our prayers and our care for one another.
Oh, God bless us; these things are so easy to say, but so hard to hold to: it’s not easy to keep trying, to keep praying, to keep watch for the dawn when the shadows are so deep and persistent. We want to see the results of our efforts. Immediately. Dramatically.
Alas, it doesn’t work like that. Much practice and many prayers are required to turn the holy Spark within us into a resplendent, divine Conflagration. It takes time to build up a fire.
But we have no cause for despair. We are not alone. We are part of a larger community; joined together with good and great souls in heaven and upon the earth. Each makes an important contribution. Who knows: perhaps there is a point at which God can no longer overlook our insistent pleas — and it will be one of our prayers that tips the scale and makes all the difference!
Understand, too, that it is nearly impossible to recognize gradual changes: each day the sunlit hours grow imperceptibly longer — and then one day it is suddenly Spring! We cannot see all the small and significant sparks of divine Light we send forth, we’ll only know, one day, that the Son is here.
“He’s coming after me!”
It is true: we are being pursued — by One who loves us utterly, by the Bringer of Life and Light. And the issue is indeed urgent. The sooner we admit Christ into our minds and hearts and hopes, the sooner we shall be free from the shadow of death, despair, and destruction. We shall be free, stronger and more powerful than anyone — including ourselves — can imagine.
Our Gracious Lord follows after us as well. Infused with the power of His radiant love and Life, we carry it into the world, into the lives of all those we meet, all those we love, all those we pray for, that they, too, may see the Light and He may enter in — to bless and comfort their souls. We illuminate the Way of Christ, even as we are illuminated by it.
And — a very important aspect of our faith — is that we are sincere, but not somber. Humor, laughter, and giggles are proof of our belief in a loving, merry Spirit; that we do not fear God, but delight in the merciful and compassionate One, trusting in the Source of Life and Light forever.
A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a broken spirit crushes our life.
~ Proverbs 17:22
To bring the Light into the world is a demanding work. It requires us to repudiate the Story the world would have us believe, a story of unending division and desperation, sickness and sorrow, fear and futility (truly “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury”!). Instead, we are to put our faith in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus: the Way of healing and hope, of cooperation and compassion; of confidence in God’s power and authority, of Christ — crucified and risen; of the Light that the darkness did not, has not, and never shall overcome.
In Him was Life, and that life was the Light of all humanity.
May Christ’s radiant Presence fill your heart and mind and soul,
To paraphrase Meister Eckhardt, “If your only prayer is prayer, that is enough.” It is not a small thing, but an act of great power. It is a soul- and world-transforming work that all of us can do.
Pray in the Light. Live in the Light.