“Newness Is on Its Way”
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” —Luke 3:15–16
John the Baptizer bursts upon the Gospel of Luke. That is because it is Advent time. And whenever it is Advent time, we get John. It is not yet time for Jesus. This is still the time for getting ready. Getting ready time is not mainly about busy activity, entertaining, and fatigue. Getting ready time is mainly abrasive … asking, thinking, pondering, and redeciding.
“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v. 16). Now I imagine that sounds as weird to you as it does to me. We who are relatively affluent and relatively sophisticated do not talk that way and do not welcome it. In truth, however, being baptized with God’s holy spirit does not mean charismatic acting out. It means, I take it, we may be visited by a spirit of openness, generosity, energy, that “the force” may come over us, carry us to do obedient things we have not yet done, kingdom things we did not think we had in us, neighbor things from which we cringe. The whole tenor of Advent is that God may act in us, through us, beyond us, more than we imagined, because newness is on its way among us.
John is not the newness. He prepares us for the newness. And his word is that if we want to be immersed in the life-giving power of God, then we must do as John says: Share your coat and shoes and goods … Manage money in neighborly ways … Quit being the heavy in social transactions.
Who would have thought such concrete acts are the tactic whereby God’s newness will yet come! Advent is not the kind of “preparation” that involves shopping and parties and cards. Such illusions of abundance disguise the true cravings of our weary souls. Advent is preparation for the demands of newness that will break the tired patterns of fear in our lives.
It is no wonder that in the very next verses of Luke 3, King Herod arrested John, imprisoned him, and tried to silence him. For what John says was dangerous for business as usual. Herod and his company preferred to imagine that their established credentials were enough, with Abraham as their father. And anyway, they did not want newness, so they tried to stop the dangerous newness before it ever intruded into their lives.
What we know, that Herod didn’t know and never even suspected, is that John’s Advent invitation cannot be silenced or arrested. It continues to invite. And sometimes we let it come among us and transform us.
Living God, visit us in this season with your Holy Spirit that we may get carried away to do obedient things we have not yet done, kingdom things we did not think we had in us, neighbor things from which we cringe. May you act in us, through us, beyond us, more than we imagine, because newness is on its way among us. Amen.
Throughout Advent we invite you to join us as we prayerfully prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas with daily readings from Walter Brueggemann’s Devotions for Advent: Celebrating Abundance. They will be posted here daily with permission from the author, but we invite you to click the link to order your own copy.