Make ReadyPosted: December 9, 2012
Sometimes only in hindsight can we see connections. When Alabama lost to Texas A&M on November 12, after having led in the polls all season as the defending national college football champion, I for one figured that was it. They were out of the running, since there were three other major undefeated teams. Who could have foreseen that the very next Saturday, both Kansas State and Oregon would be upset by their opponents thus re-opening a possible way to the National Championship for Alabama? Sometimes the story lies hidden until other developments open the way. Jesus was a poor carpenter living in the hill country of Galilee until John’s voice crying out in the wilderness called him to leave the village of Nazareth and step onto the stage of history.
John the Baptist didn’t intend to prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus, any more than Baylor and Stanford meant to open a path to the National Championship for Alabama, but sometimes history has a way of creating connections we only recognize in hindsight. Probably Jesus was a follower of John the Baptist, although, the followers of John the Baptist were a much looser association than the people who later followed Jesus. One Biblical scholar has claimed that in having people come out into the wilderness to him for baptism, John was like a sole proprietorship, while Jesus in sending his disciples out to spread the message of healing and shared eating to the world was like a franchise. The difference in organization between John and Jesus meant that the early church was successful in spreading its message, while the followers of John faded in significance.
Just as no one in the Baylor locker room said, “Let’s beat Kansas State for Alabama.” And no one in the Stanford locker room said, “Oh if we beat Oregon, maybe Alabama can go to the BCS Championship.” And no one last week in the Georgia locker room said, “Let’s let Alabama win, so they can go to the championship game.” And I will guarantee you no one in the Notre Dame locker room is going to say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Alabama won the Championship two years in a row!”
John’s message was revolutionary on three levels. First, he was calling his listeners to a simpler way of life. Come out into the desert and learn how to simplify your lives. Since the beginning of the great modern recession many people in our consumer oriented society have become open to a message of simplifying our lives. Consume less, reuse and recycle, don’t borrow to purchase things we don’t need.
Second, John preached that if everyone shared there would be enough for all. Jesus enlarged upon this theme by inviting people to sit down and eat together, thus challenging the caste system that had grown up around clean and unclean – kosher and non-kosher.
John’s message originally focused on leveling society by sharing:
Luke 3: 10 And the multitudes asked him, “What then shall we do?”
11 And he answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”
The third revolutionary aspect of John’s ministry was his insistence that faith had to be a decision rather than a matter of birth. It was not enough to be born Jewish, Luke 3: 8 Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. The practice of Baptism was a ritual cleansing used in the conversion of gentiles to Judaism. John’s baptism opened the way for the church to convert the gentiles, and the incredible expansion of the message of the gospel throughout the world.
Again John could not foresee how his revolutionary baptism would open the way for a new and different faith with its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures to explode onto the world stage. Indeed, the franchise aspect of Jesus’ message has made Christianity one of the most flexible religions in the world. The story of Jesus adapts from culture to culture more easily than any other faith. While Islam has rivaled Christianity in its evangelistic spread, Islam still refuses to translate the Quran into anything but Arabic, while the Bible has been translated into almost every language in the world. Jesus has been artistically adapted to every race and culture of the globe. According to Harvey Cox Christianity is now the fastest growing religion in the world. While the church in Western Europe and North America struggles to survive choked by the affluence of the West, the church in the third World is exploding. Christianity is growing so fast in China, some church leaders there speculate that China could become a majority Christian nation. Of course these churches in the third world look very different from our staid, buttoned up white churches of North America and Europe. There is discussion in the churches of the third world of the need to send missionaries to re-evangelize Europe and North America.
When the Birmingham 8 met with the Dean of the Waldensian Seminary in Rome, he shared with us that the new life flowing into the Waldensian Church was coming from African immigrants to Italy. The Waldensians are the descendants of a pre-reformation Protestant movement in Italy and Switzerland. Thus the Waldensian churches are over 800 years old, but very conservative and quietly pietistic. New life and enthusiasm in worship and preaching is being breathed into their fellowship by converts from Africa who are first and second generation Christians. Maybe John the Baptist was right: “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” The energy of the Jesus movement at this point in history is among the poor and the non-white.
We often cannot see what God is up to in history until we can look back in hindsight, and that applies to our individual lives too. Have you ever wondered how you were going to get through some really difficult challenge and only after it was all over could you see God’s hand in the events of your life? Sort of like a sentence from Talitha Arnold’s Still Speaking Devotion: “Even if our experiences of God’s saving grace haven’t had the special effects of the Exodus, I suspect each of us can, as the old Spiritual sings, ‘look back in wonder at how we got through.’” Can we think of times in our lives when we look back in wonder at how we got through?
Another mark of God’s saving grace in our lives is synchronicity. Carl Jung described synchronicity as the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner. Now some people would say, “oh that’s just coincidence.”
I am reminded of the teacher who asked her class, “can anyone give me an example of coincidence?”
And an enthusiastic young man waved his hand and when called on said, “My Mom and Dad got married on the same day at the same time!”
Some things just happen, but have you ever experienced a coincidence that was so powerful there just had to be something more behind it than mere chance? Maybe some of the coincidences in our lives are really little God happenings. Let me share with you a devotion by an anonymous author about the word GUIDANCE.
When I meditate on the word GUIDANCE, I keep seeing “dance” at the end of the word. I remember reading that doing God’s will is a lot like dancing. When two people try to lead, nothing feels right. The movement doesn’t flow with the music, and everything is quite uncomfortable and jerky. When one person realizes that, and lets the other lead, both bodies begin to flow with the music. One gives gentle cues, perhaps with a nudge to the back or by pressing lightly in one direction or another. It’s as if two become one body, moving beautifully. The dance takes surrender and trust, willingness, and attentiveness from one person and gentle guidance and skill from the other.
When I see “G,” I think of God, followed by “u” and “i.” God, “u” and “i” dance. God, you, and I dance. If I will only pray, and become willing to trust, that I will receive guidance for my life, I can allow God to lead. I hope you dance with God today.
Advent is about preparation, preparing ourselves to dance with God, opening our eyes to see God’s wonder around us. Allowing ourselves to be open to the synchronicities that happen in our lives prepared to act upon them. The opportunity that opened up for the Alabama football team to go to the BCS Championship game wouldn’t have meant much, if they had not prepared themselves to go play Georgia in Atlanta last weekend. So make ready God’s opportunities are all around us. John the Baptist could not have foreseen how his ministry would open the opportunity for a whole new way of seeing and experiencing God. We can’t know in advance what wonders God will perform in our lives. All we can do is be open to God’s guidance, be watchful for the little events and prayers that are God’s attempts to gently nudge us and guide in the directions God wants us to go.
And if you have the chance to sit it out or dance, then dance. Dance with God!