Category Archives: John

John the expecter.

(Part one of a three-part reflection from John 1:29-34.)

May I tell you about John the Baptist?

I know that you may know all about him, but I’d like to review.

John lived six months before Jesus. More accurately, he was born about six months before Jesus. Their mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, were relatives.

Both of their births were miracles. John’s because Elizabeth was old, well past the time that anyone would expect her to be expecting. Jesus’s because, well, because he was Jesus.

Both of the pregnancies were announced by angels. You know the current partying around baby announcements, with blue or pink smoke or cupcake fillings or t-shirts? John and Jesus were predicted by angels. Take that Pinterest.

And their roles were predicted, too. John was going to “prepare the way for the Lord,” to help people get ready for the person who would save Israel, to point toward the Messiah. Jesus was going to be the messiah. The Christ. The one who would be the King.

John was called to get people ready for Jesus. The older to point toward the younger.

Jesus and John grew up separately.  John in the hill country, and then the wilderness. Jesus close to Jerusalem, then in Egypt, and then way up north in Galilee.

IMG_1458.JPGJohn eventually started preaching. He told people that the Holy one was coming. He told them that they needed to get their lives cleaned up before he came. Repent, he said. Turn your life around. The kingdom of God is close.

Some people laughed or argued. But some people knew that they were messed up, that the way they lived wasn’t what God wanted. So they wanted to change. John told them that one way to show that they were serious was to walk through water, to go down into the river and to come back out. It was called baptism. And John was called the Baptist.

After they were baptized, he told them how to live. Honestly, justly, compassionately. To live in a way that was consistent with their commitment.

But the whole time John was teaching and preaching and washing, he was watching.  Because he knew that the kingdom of God was close.

  • Close in time – soon – so that there was no time to waste.
  • Close in geography – nearby – so that he would see the king.

John had a purpose, a calling, a mission, a job. His whole life was about getting people ready for the kingdom of God. That sense of expectation was so strong that he didn’t waste his time on anything else.

His calling still has openings.

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Advent 17: Camping with Saint John

That evening, we went to the address John had given us. As I thought, it wasn’t a house. It was a campground not far from the mall. The sign said that the campground was closed, but even from the parking lot, I could see a couple of tents attempting, unsuccessfully, to hide from view. And a small fire.

fireAnd John. He was sitting by the fire like he was the one keeping it burning.

We were a hundred yards away so I couldn’t see details. But I knew it was John. There’s something about the way he carries himself. Confident without being arrogant.

We sat in the car. It was warm. And I wanted to see what was happening.

A young couple crawled out of one of the tents. She was expecting. Another guy crawled out of the other tent. They walked toward the fire.

Apparently, John had a pot in the fire. He reached for a bowl, filled it, and handed it to her. John took another bowl and filled it for one of the guys.

John stood up. He looked across the empty campground, across the parking lot, straight at us. He tilted his head in what may have been a nod. And turned back toward the fire and the young people and spread out his arms, just for a moment. And they all sat down.

We left, not saying a word. A little later, I heard Nancy whispering. “God, hide them in your hand.” After some recent stories about homeless camps being cleared out, I understood her fear.

When I asked him about it a couple days later, all he said was, “as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

That night, we put some blankets in the car and went back to the campground. It was empty. “Loving one another is going to take some looking,” I said.

Advent 16: Saint John and the geography lesson.

I got a note from a friend. She’d been visiting the mall late one evening. She said that she had looked for Saint John but missed him, “though we didn’t go through the Macy’s or Penney’s mattress departments where I assume he sleeps.”

I hadn’t thought about that.

“Rabbi, where are you staying?” I said when we saw him next.

“Not here,” he said.

He gave me an address.

We talked about the importance of geography for people. “Where do you live?’ is a question we ask often. I think it’s a way of sorting people. If we know where they are from, we can anticipate how they will think and act.

“Nathanael discounted Jesus because he was from Nazareth,” I said. “And you, I mean, the disciples were very hesitant about the woman in Samaria.”

John nodded. “For good or ill, every group of people tends to evaluate every other group of people from somewhere else. In fact, that tendency is at the heart of Advent.”

“No room in the inn?” I said, hesitantly.

John shook his head. “Don’t get wrapped up in the little details of Christmas,” he said with a gentle firmness. “Advent is the expectation of deliverance, of royal peace, of holy authority. ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’ It’s more than the story of a wandering couple or a transient rabbi.”

“It’s the construction company’s owner moving into the city he just built?” I said, anxious to offer a new metaphor.

lights“No, it’s the true light that gives light to everyone finally coming into the world,” John said. “Not everyone recognized him at first. But slowly we did. And by that light we saw that he was part of a geography that was completely different than ours, yet ours was part of his.”

John stopped.

“You get consumed by today’s details. You need to keep the whole story in mind.” And he walked into a store. I looked up at the sign and laughed: “Things Remembered.”

Advent 15: Saint John and Christmas Performance.

“Can we go back to talking about expectations?” I said.

John had pointed to the whole “meaning of Christmas” perspective, to the expectancy of the one bringing good news to the poor. But it didn’t solve a struggle that I kept having. I was still wrestling with the practical implications of doing stuff at Christmas.

“Go ahead,” John finally said. I realized that I had been so caught up in my thoughts that I forgot the people walking with me.

“Sorry,” I said, shaking my head to clear my thoughts.

IMG_2220.JPG“I think part of the reason that I don’t care for Christmas is that I’ve spent so many Christmas’s getting ready for events at church. Christmas programs. Advent series. Christmas eve services. It often feels like I can’t stop to think about Christmas, about Christ, until after the last event on Christmas Eve. And by then, it’s too late.”

Nancy nodded. “Even when he’s home, he’s thinking ahead to the next event, the next performance. Sometimes I think that the only way he’s really home for Christmas IS in his dreams.”

John thought for a bit. “I think that the word that’s got you trapped is the word ‘performance.’ Somewhere, you got caught up in performing for Christmas and it’s taken the place of celebrating Christmas. The deep, honest, participation in joy and grief and people.”

He laughed. “I think Jesus was talking about you one day. In that conversation where Jesus talked about the religious leaders ignoring the scriptures that pointed to him, Jesus said, ‘How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet you make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?’”

“I thought I was thinking about God,” I said. “I mean, as a third grader with a fourth grade part in the Christmas program, was I really getting the kind of praise confused?”

John stopped and looked at me with his clear, piercing eyes. “All those years, how often were you thinking about participating with, and how often were you performing for?”

He and Nancy walked on. They had their own conversation.

I stood in the middle of the crowd for a very long time.

Advent 14: Expectations and expectancy.

Nancy and I were talking about why we don’t care for Christmas. It’s not that we are against the Incarnation of Christ. It’s not that we are protesting the commercialization of the holiday. It’s not that we are refusing to take sides in the “Holiday/Christmas” debate.

IMG_2696We realized that it’s about the expectations. There are scheduling expectations, there are emotional expectations, there are gifting expectations. There are even expectations about not getting caught up in the expectations.

“Help,” I said to Saint John. “Can you sort out the struggle with expectations?”

I asked him because John is a pretty good person to talk with about expectancy. He grew up in Malachi-shaped Israel, expecting a prophet like Elijah. He found that prophet in John the baptizer who talked about expecting someone else. He followed the one John pointed to, expecting the kingdom to be established. He expected the resurrection of Jesus. He was told to expect the return of that king, first by Jesus, then again as he took down the Revelation. His whole life was about expectations.

“There’s a difference between expectations and expectancy,” John said. “Jesus almost never lived up to expectations. In fact, he was talking to the religious leaders one day. It was right after the healing we talked about yesterday. He talked to them about how they were ignoring all the things that pointed to him. And he said, ‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life;  and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.’ ”

John started laughing as he was quoting Jesus. “Imagine going to people who are seminary trained, who have memorized the Bible, who have staked their careers on their religious pursuit of telling people how to measure up and saying, ‘I do not think that word means what you think it means.’”

I must have looked a little stressed. John put his hand on my shoulder. “I’m not too worried about you. There were lots of people who read the words and understood them. That’s what I mean by the difference between expectations and expectancy. The religious leaders lived by expectations and Jesus didn’t measure up. But others lived in expectancy. We were waiting for a person who would fulfill the promises, who would bring hope and healing. We were pretty sure that Isaiah was pointing to someone real when he quoted,

‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn.’”

I had to look up those last words for myself because John forgot he was talking to me. He slipped into Hebrew while he was quoting Isaiah. But that was okay. Expectancy can do that. Living in the freedom of hope rather than the chains of expectations can let you forget where you are.