A reflection and prayer for December 23, 2017, Day 21 of Advent
Thus says the Lord GOD:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye. (Mal 3:1-2)
The messenger is not an angel but John the Baptist. John was descended from a priestly line, but as God’s messenger, we do not see him in the Temple observing the rituals as did his father, Zechariah. He is not dressed in priestly garments, nor taking his turn at offering incense and sacrifice.
Rather we see him in the desert, away from every physical manifestation of religion beyond water and the word, and his own stripped-down humanity.
John, the priest, is also prophet and his words as prophet are blunt, unyeilding and fiercely truthful, so much so that they are eventually the death of him, because humanity — thrown into chaos on the force of the serpent’s lie — has tried to silence Truth, one way or another, ever since.
But his priesthood is fierce as well, because it is a radical rejection of what temple worship had become — corrupt, political, spiritually and economically suspect. Stripped down to a camel’s hair robe, feeding on locusts and honey, John still retains his priesthood. He demonstrates as much in his preaching, in his urgent call for a return to God, unencumbered by what has become earthbound or corrupted, and unencumbered by the weeds of sin that did thrive in such a social and religious environment.
All there is, John says, is God, and us, and our self-consideration should be — as he exemplifies — lean and sparse, our lives uncluttered in order to sharpen our focus on heaven. Seek the Lord, See the Lord, Be in Awe of the Lord, Obey the Lord, was John’s message, because everything is about to change. The Lamb of God, living among them, would make it so.
This was not, as some might want to think, a full-on rejection of what we call “organized religion” and John wasn’t saying it was. How could he when the Lamb he was announcing was himself a defender of the temple who cast out the moneychangers who had defiled it — an observant Jew who told those he healed to show themselves to the priests, and do as Moses prescribed in the law?
But John was telling us not to become so hung up on the physical, on the looks, the exacting rituals and motions as to lose sight of the God to whom it is directed; to see all of it as a means to an end — the transitional tools that assist the kiss between heaven and earth, all pointless in and of themselves, unless they are pointing us squarely to God.
Jesus said much the same, but very differently. He too said, Seek the Lord, See the Lord, Be in Awe of the Lord, Obey the Lord. But he went beyond John, adding, Love the Lord, Ephphatha! Let the Lord Love You back!
These cousins could not have been more different in delivery, but were of the same mind of bringing people back from where they had run astray. We are eternally stuck in the errors of Eden yet being lured and encouraged back to Paradise.
Come, Lord Jesus! As Advent draws to a close, may you find within me a temple cleansed of all excess, all that is corrupt, dishonest or other-directed, that you may dwell in me, and I may become holy — a true temple of your Holy Spirit — by the settlement upon me of your presence and your light. Amen.