Scripture: Luke 3: 1-6 (NRSV)
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
'The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
"Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." '
There is so much to reflect upon in these six verses - baptism, repentance, forgiveness, preparing our way, salvation. And if you're a preacher like me, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable can get thrown in there too. Not to mention why Luke might have used the words of Isaiah to describe John's ministry. A sermon can take off in several directions. I think the greatest challenge for me as a Christian mystic is to not over think this, but to be aware of my living out the wisdom of Luke's writing, which is really to take myself out of the pulpit and delve into an awareness of my own struggle with life.
There have been times in my life when I was "made low" by diagnoses of both heart disease and cancer. I get that part. Yet the gift of these illnesses was the awareness of my fears and the ultimate deepening of trust and surrender. As I went through dealing with these illnesses I kept a copy of Rumi's poem, "The Ordeal" nearby and read it often. I got out of my head and my own way. I got lost on the way. I arrived at a place of not just acceptance, but embracing - embracing everything - and also the dedication of my life to that Light beyond my understanding. I lived in not knowing. Not knowing, I discovered, is Holy Ground.
I recently finished a memoir by Mirabai Starr, "Caravan of No Despair" which is a story of loss and transformation. It was deeply meaningful to me. Starr had translated St. John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Soul." It wasn't until after the book was published that she herself went through that journey. It is impossible to define precisely where a journey begins or where it ends. We are here somewhere along the way. Here. Rough or smooth, crooked or straight, lost or found, our life is here and it is a gift. If we are to believe Isaiah and Luke, we shall see the salvation of God. If we are to believe John the Baptist, it is the Living Water of God which gives us life and is our life. I am not content to take their word for it. I feel called to live this life with surrender and not knowing. This struggle with God, with life, is precious. In it we may discover our life's work.
Loving God, guide us, bless us, uphold us. Help us to surrender our knowing. May we throw ourselves into the fire of life so that we may be transformed and live with courage and meaning and joy. Help us to be aware of your Presence always and trust in your salvation. Amen.
the Rev. Sidat Balgobin Balgobin
is a retired Minister of Park Congregational Church and an active Spiritual Director