Beginning with Reverence

Isaiah 61:1-4, Psalm 126:1-6, John 1:1-28 (RCL: John 1:6-8, 19-28)

Let us pray:
By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Over Thanksgiving, I went on a walk in the Georgian woods with my daughter, my son, and their grandfather.  Paw-Paw and Timothy easily got ahead of Sarah and myself.  The trail led us around the edge of a still lake and then up a stream that tumbled and gurgled, chuckled and chortled as it swept down a little ravine into the lake.  When we reached the end of the trail and turned around to head back to where we had begun, Sarah had had enough stumbling over rocks, stepping up over big tree roots and precariously balancing on the narrow trail covered with slippery fall leaves.  “Up,” she said, swinging around in front of me and blocking my way.  “Up!”

I tried several times to encourage her to continue walking, but eventually relented and picked her up.  She lay her head upon my shoulder and wrapped her trusting arms around my neck.  As she snuggled in, I said, “Let’s have a listening walk.” From that moment on, all the way back along the trail we walked in silence, just listening to the stream and the occasional bird call.  Leaves rustled under my footsteps as I gingerly walked the narrow trail with my daughter in my arms.  Born in that moment of beauty, I was reminded that nature’s witness is one of the ways, at least for me, that births the beginning of reverence.
It is with similar reverence that I approach the season of Christmas; with similar reverence that I try to approach our sacred scriptures seeking meaning for our lives in this day and age.  The Gospel of John captures something of that same reference – reverence for the beauty and mystery of God.

Progressing through this next year of our revised common lectionary, we will be alternating between the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John; two very different books.  John with its reflective, almost mystical interpretations of the life and times of Jesus, and the stark, bleak real-life immediacy of Mark’s account.  Both Gospels begin with the character of John the Baptist, leading the way, pointing to the One who will come after, the thongs of whose sandals he is not worthy to untie.

Can you picture it?  John the Baptist, standing in the middle of the Jordan River, witnessing before his questioners in the words of the Gospel of John, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know;” and in the words of the Gospel of Mark, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

With the stream running beside me as I carried my daughter through the silence of the living forest, I could only imagine what it may have been like for those along the gurgling waters of the Jordan River some 2000 years ago.  I wonder if, when John baptized, a real presence of Something Else was felt; I wonder if a new kind of reverence was re-kindled in that repentant moment coming up out of the waters, being born anew, awakening into a new awareness that the Light of the World had indeed been born among them and now lays claim to their very lives.

The Gospel of John tells us: “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.  Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” (1:6-7)

That leads me to ask, though, why was he baptizing in the first place?  Why did the people, in fact all of Judea and Jerusalem, need repentance in the first place?  Why was this baptism necessary?

I wonder, in the age of John the Baptist, had the religious establishment grown too distant from their own awareness of God’s holiness?  I wonder, had the collective memory of their ancient past, their wilderness experience when God was very real and present, grown hazy with the distant years?  I wonder, had their faith become rote, ritualistic, meaningless, numb with no sense of awe and beauty?

I wonder, have any of us entered this sanctuary today with feelings of distance from God?  Have any of us come today to the throne of grace and mercy but not really felt like it had any meaning for us?  Were some of us raised in the faith and then wandered away?  Are some of us even now wondering, does God even speak today in our present time of trouble or need, plenty or want…Is God still real and present…for me?

An echo comes to my ears of a rushing creek and dry crackle of leaves underfoot.  My daughter’s head rests upon my shoulders, her arms wrapped around my neck in trust and love, words yet unknown speak to me from her breaths of wonder at a world of beauty.

That echo is repeated here in Trout Lake, walking along the creek or river.  Here, a whisper of wind speaks to me from the pine and fir boughs above.  Birds call.  White snow falls like a blanket and covers all the rough places on the mountain, making them plain, soft, and rounded.  Yet still she points to heaven, as if, saying, I am but a reflection of the higher beauty of the one who made me.  It’s as if she tells us, in the words of the old poem, to look up, and love, and laugh, and lift.

You all may know a little something about snow, here.  But did you know there are over 114 different words for snow in the native Inupiak language of Alaska?  Even in my two years there, I still didn’t lose my awe of that frozen beauty.  If we peer closely, each tiny crystal of snow bears a different shape and size, structure and symbol.  And even in the muddy slushy season of break-up, all the colors of the rainbow shower to greet us after each rain.

“John…appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  O Lord our God, forgive us when we lose sight of your beauty.  O Lord our God, give us new eyes to see, new ears to hear, that we may be still and know that you are God.

We come to Advent each year to relive…what?  A memory that has become rote?  A story frozen in time from long ago?  Moments of beauty from our childhood when Christmas was a mystery, anticipation of joy to come was at its highest, and eyes sparkled one to another with hopes unspoken, dreams yet to be realized, and a childlike faith that all things are possible?

Every year we come to this time of waiting in expectation.  We talk about the birth of Christ, and the miracles that unfold with his coming.  Let it be our prayer this year that something in us will be born yet again.  Something of that excitement, that joy that comes when we walk along a stream and hear its gurgling laughter, when we see a flash of colored feathers as a bird takes off in flight, calling out its song, when we walk silently in the woods and feel the presence of something More, something Other, something of God:

The God who waits with us in anticipation, the God who holds us like children tired from the journey, the God around whom we can throw our trusting arms, the God who births within us the glowing embers of love, kindled anew every year.  Let us remember these stories, for they hold their own deep and inner beauty, a beauty that can birth anew in us a reverence born of God.

May all glory be unto God and the Holy Spirit, and unto the One for whom we wait, the One who will be born among us once more.  Amen?  May it be so.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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