Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.
The last few months have been as though a hurricane was ripping through my life. The winds keep pounding. I keep trudging on, asking for direction in my daily prayers. Occasionally I pause and wonder, where am I going? Did I make a wrong turn? So it was a great comfort to consider John the Baptist’s life today in church.
John the Baptizer prepared the world for the coming of Christ. Like baptism itself, his life opened mankind to a new conversation with God.
When John was born and his mother Elizabeth announced that the boy’s name would be John, his father Zachariah, having been muted by an angel for nine months because of his unbelief, was given his speech back. His words rang through the air:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:68-79)
We as Anglicans have incorporated this prayer of praise, theBenedictus, into our Morning Prayer Office, and today, as I listened to our preacher speak of John the Baptist I thought how John was always the one going before, preparing the way, tilling the soil so that the seed would fall on good ground. He plays a supporting role, and a brief one at that.
Did he know how it would all turn out… his part in this drama of salvation? Probably not, but from birth he was open to what God would do in his life. He followed the promptings of a prayerful heart; he felt the winds of the Holy Spirit directing him.
He lived in the desert on locusts and honey, wore animal skins, and baptized people in the River Jordan. Did he keep a watch for the promised Messiah?
John must have looked wild as he screamed his fierce warnings. He called for repentance, a turning from the dark to the light. He called for men to love one another, to care for one another. He warned of a coming judgment. Turn back! Repent! Change! Make your paths straight!
He waited and watched in the desert. Then the promised Messiah appeared.
As John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove and God the Father spoke from the heavens saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”
John’s birth and life had led to this moment, and as Jesus walked away, John told his own disciples, “Behold the lamb of God…follow him.” And they did.
I could see the scene vividly this morning as I listened to our preacher. It was a stunning moment in man’s history and it struck me that I didn’t have to see the whole plan either. I knew, as I left the quiet, safe, sweet-smelling sanctuary to re-enter the windy world, that all I had to worry about was my daily prayers and being open to the winds of the Holy Spirit to direct me.
I doubt that John knew the outcome of his life in the desert, but I’m sure he had moments of encouragement, moments in his solitary life of fasting and burning sun when God spoke to him from the parting heavens. I too have had had such moments, even in the midst of my hurricanes.
In fact, I received an email on Friday from a British lord whose writing I greatly admire and to whom I owe a huge debt. What a surprise and a delight for me to receive a thank you note from him.
I could not have written my third novel, Inheritance, without the writings of this man over fifty years ago. He wrote the biography of Raymond Raynes, an Anglican monk, former Superior of the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield, England. Some consider Father Raynes a saint. This biography, along with other works, formed the link that would bring Father Raynes into the present day. It only took one man to do it, and he did it. He was prompted and chosen by God.
Lord R loved my novel, Inheritance, which I had sent to him as a thank you for his work. He was complimentary and encouraging, saying it happily brought him back to those days.
So on Friday morning, in the middle of my tempestuous life, the heavens opened up. I knew once again that God was guiding me, and all I needed to do was be faithful, say my daily prayers, and worship God.
Just like John the Baptist.