Thursday, 6 December 2018

Faith...is it ever a linear process?

John the Baptist
by Dinah Roe Kendall

It’s ‘John the Baptist day’ this weekend, as it is every second Sunday of Advent.

His story is predominantly in the gospel pages after the birth narratives, yet the part he plays as the one who ‘prepares’ the people to welcome Jesus makes him an obvious choice for one of these Sundays during a month of preparation.

John seems to me to be a wonderfully complex and unfinished character; so he’s like most of us!

He’s a typical Jewish Scripture prophet in terms of style.  He’s an old school maverick who preaches from the side lines.  He’s the fly in the ointment who becomes a great irritant for both the religious and secular authorities.  He’s the wonderfully eccentric ‘other’ who wakes people up; in contrast to the calm and cultured Temple priest who dutifully kept the status quo and probably sent the congregation to sleep with their predictable sermons.

So, on the banks of the Jordan river John preaches his heart out and people respond.  It’s a mini revival and a different sort of stirring emerges.  People do seem to have seen something more in John than just his odd way of dressing and eating.  They begin to see a need within themselves to become authentic as seekers after truth rather than stay with a religion that no longer seemed to speak with courage or honesty.

John points to Jesus, honours Jesus and promotes Jesus even as he baptises him.

And yet…..the truth is as we wind the tape on a few years with John now imprisoned, we meet someone who is no longer sure about the validity of his cousin’s mission.  John sends a message to the one he had baptised with such affirmation, it’s now a message of doubt and asks the question: are you the one, or should we be looking for someone else?

John started so well.  He is the one who knew what he was against, a real ‘non-conformist’ – hooray! He knew he was against dressed up religion, controlled by a powerful few, observed by a majority who’d lost the essence of who God is.  Into this context John shouted ‘repent’.

And they did, hundreds of them as they queued up for baptism.

Yet a few years after the arrival of Jesus it’s John who is now not really sure that his cousin is the real thing.  Too soft perhaps, certainly too nuanced. 

I’m glad John is part of our Advent journey because exploring faith is never a straightforward, linear process.  Life, events and experience gets in the way – fortunately.  And we are left wondering what to make of it all, we are left revisiting old questions we thought long since sorted.  We are left as seekers after truth who are always journeying, always discovering more and always unfinished.

ps…each week through Advent the Baptist Union Retreat Group is posting a blog – find out more at: https://baptistunionretreatgroup.blogspot.com

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