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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Today's Scripture Reading | Mark 1:1–8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

 “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”(NRSV)

In the entrance to the Abbey Church of St. John’s in Collegeville, Minnesota, there is a statue of John the Baptist next to the baptismal font. Doris Caesar’s seven-foot sculpture is not so much lifelike as it is arresting. John’s striking physical features can startle: sunken eyes; gaunt face, muscular neck and upper body; tiny waist; oversized hands with the right index finger pointing (to the baptismal water? to Jesus? to church? to me?); powerful thighs; feet planted firmly on the ground. He’s not attractive or charming, but he demands attention.

Mark’s portrayal of John here brings that image to mind; this literary text shares some of its traits. The first of the Gospels to be written, Mark is straightforward and a little ragged. In a hurry to tell the good news there is no time for extended context, character development, rhetorical flourishes, or prettying things (or people) up.

As we set our hearts and minds on the year ahead, we can glean two important messages from this passage. The first is the exigency of now. John appears out of nowhere and gets on with the business of what he’s called to do. There’s no analysis of backstory. Maybe we can let what’s past be past and work on listening to what God is asking of us on January 12, 2017. That task will require John’s second message: being honest. John knows who he is and will not allow comparison or speculation to confuse his course. That kind of clarity is sometimes hard to come by, but here we have a strong and inspiring model.

O God of prophets and desert and spareness, help us to trim the extraneous from our lives so that we can see what you see, so that we can see what is. Pull us into the now, and grant us the clarity and courage to stay here. In the name of Jesus, your Son. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator, Center for Life and Learning

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