God is in the River
Bugs, Mud, and the 3rd Week of Advent
Before the first coming of Jesus, before he began his earthly ministry, his cousin John was preaching in the wilderness calling people to change their ways by word and example. John was separate in the wilderness, eating food found only in the wilderness. He was off the grid even by first century standards, not participating in any part of established society, at least not that we see in the text.
In her Advent devotional, The Meaning in the Waiting, Paula Gooder points out that this baptism John was offering would have seemed very strange to the people of that day. Instead of ritualistic mikvah bathing, he invited them to step into the languid, muddy waters of the Jordan River. The significance of this is two-fold, I think. As Gooder points out, this is a calling back to the boundary that marked the beginning of the promised land. It is a return to remembering who they were when God called them. I think it is also a return to connection with creation and a broadening of the definition of how and who can commit to following God.
I see this over and over again when I look at scripture. We’ve talked before about how if you look at what God is doing in light of where the culture of the time was, God is always nudging people to the next level of equity, and justice, and shalom. God’s call works as a reorientation towards God’s priorities, expanding the definitions of who’s included and where we can encounter God.
We want God to just be in the temple–or in the church–because if God is just in the building and we go encounter God there, we can also leave God there. If God is in the place of worship only then that makes a very tiny and manageable God, a comfortable God, a God we can get used to.
But just when we’re used to God being in the house of worship, we go looking for God and discover that God isn’t just in the temple, they’re out in the river, calling everyone in.
God is in the river, y’all, God is in the river and everyone’s invited.