Why Prophets Cry in the Wilderness

In Matthew 3 (part of the reading for the second week of Advent), John is a prophet who cries out from the wilderness, warning even the people who know the Bible the most that they, too, need to repent of their sins before they are caught up in judgment.

Until tonight (Sunday), the thought never occurred to me: why does this voice have to come from the wilderness? Why not a synagogue or the Temple?

One answer is, Isaiah predicted it that way, so that’s how it had to happen. Okay, I understand that. But I also wonder if sometimes, our houses of worship don’t get so bad that prophets have to sound off from the wilderness because the wilderness is the only place willing to accommodate the relentless cries of the prophets.

In word, churches want to follow Jesus and to become more like him. And I think that’s their goal in most things, too. But it’s very easy for churches to become places where we get comfortable and complacent. We think we’re secure because of something other than our repentance–our returning, on a daily basis, to the God who made and loves us. We aren’t willing to hear warning cries, because aren’t warnings for people who don’t know Jesus? Aren’t those for the “world”, not Christians?

Sadly, and against our best efforts, sometimes our churches that were designed to be a place where you could hear the voice of God becomes the kind of place where you go to keep Him out.

Because being comfortable in a false sense of knowing Him is better than having to listen to people like John.

People like John tell us that if we have more than enough food or clothing, then our excess belongs to the poor. People like John tell us to be content with what we earn for a living. People like John are the type of people we wish would just shut up, not because they’re not speaking from God but because they are and we don’t like what He has to say.

So I suppose a challenge for me this week is this: look at the purpose of my spiritual activities–church, small group, prayer, readings–and look at whether I’m doing those things to actually hear the wild Voice or to find a replica of it, something that sounds godly but isn’t actually strong enough to shake up my life. 

Rethinking God: He Likes Us

Whatever one thinks of Christmas, one should start with this: the birth of Jesus proves you didn’t know God like you thought you did.

Of all the miracles recorded in Scripture and the legends carried through traditions–incorrect or otherwise–none of them relayed the idea that the Almighty would become a helpless baby. The Christian tradition insists that He did, and the very act of doing so set off a lifetime of events in which this baby Jesus would confound and confuse what his contemporaries had understood God to be like.

Because this God isn’t the temper-tantric cosmic deity who is just itching for a chance to destroy the world.

This is a God who will make friends with sinners–the very worst of them, it turns out–and verbally berate religious leaders and biblical scholars who used their so-called fear of God to beat people over the head. Tax collectors and whores enter the kingdom of God and find a party waiting for them; Pharisees and scribes found themselves standing outside the celebration, ignoring the father’s pleas to join in the fun.

This is a God who not only cares about justice being done but, in his own crucifixion, allowed Himself to become a victim to injustice–and in so doing, He made reconciliation with His enemies.

It turns out this God isn’t who we thought He was. When he grew up, Jesus insisted that if you had seen him, you had seen the Father. So what did Jesus show us? He showed us that it’s impossible to follow him without a cross on your back–and yet the burden will still be light. He showed us how to repay cursing with blessing and betrayal with forgiveness. He showed us the true intent and meaning of the Scriptures–to love God and your neighbor with your whole self–and that anything less than this is a distortion of the Scriptures we claim to hold so dear.

Jesus insisted that to know what he was like was to know what God was like–and that simple truth has caused the church to rethink everything it knew about God for two thousand years.

Looking at Jesus, though, we can learn something simple and powerful about God: it turns out He likes us a lot more than we thought.