Author: Chad Hyatt
Reflection: v. 4, ‘John was… calling for people… to show that they were changing their hearts and lives’
Advent sometimes seems like the season of John the Baptist. But what is John saying to us, exactly? When we unpacked the beginning of Mark together in a community Bible study, we started with some good questions. Why is John wearing a camel hair coat? He’s signaling he stands in the tradition of Israel’s prophets; Elijah’s famous mantle was the same kind of hairy cloak. What’s up with that crazy diet—locusts and wild honey? It resonates with scriptural imagery, in particular the Exodus story: locusts for the plague sent on hard-hearted Egypt, honey for the land of promise flowing with milk and honey—and maybe for the sweet taste of the manna God fed the wilderness wanderers. And what about that wilderness—and the River Jordan? It’s the Exodus story, too—that long in-between as the people moved from liberation to promise and the watery way that led them to a new life. Put all these together, and the picture is clear: John is positioned as the prophetically predicted prophet who announces the beginning of a new Exodus for God’s people—and for all oppressed human beings the world over. That’s how the Gospel chooses to introduce Jesus. John is saying that the God of the Exodus is still hearing the cries of the oppressed and intervening in history to set captives free. Now is always the time for liberation. As we pondered this story together, one of our brothers reflected on how hard the holidays are for many of us, especially Christmas. Our culture paints gauzy images of home and hearth and family and fun, and we feel deeply disconnected from all of those things. But my brother also put his finger on the now possibility of a God who still hears our anguished cries and invites us toward a different kind of future. My brother, like many of us in our community, has made choices toward sobriety. With some clean time under his belt, he’s already reconnected with family. It’s a process that might seem like a wilderness, but there’s a land full of promise on the other side. And that’s really what repentance looks like—the choice to reconnect, to find an overwhelming and merciful forgiveness when we honestly admit our faults, and the promise of restored community in its wake. It seems John’s message is good news for our day, too.
Prayer God of wilderness prophets, help us choose to reconnect.