The Crooked Path of Trust: STTS June 24, 2021
Today we celebrate the Nativity of John the Baptist. It’s an unusual feast day for many reasons. First, there are only several times when a saint’s birth date is celebrated — besides the birth of Jesus himself. The Christian calendar celebrates the birth of the Virgin Mary, which is not discussed anywhere in scripture, and the birth of John the Baptist, which is. Further, the birth date of John the Baptist is dependent mathematically on two other feasts: Christmas, and the Annunciation. Because Mary is told that her kinswoman Elizabeth, John’s mother, is already six months pregnant with John, John’s birth is celebrated three months to the day after the feast of the Annunciation. And since John is born six months before Jesus, Christmas is now officially six months from today. For those of you who dislike summer, which just now started, may this be a light of hope for you. You’re welcome.
The scriptures chosen all relate to the career of John the Baptist as prophet and forerunner to Jesus the Messiah. We begin with the beautiful first eleven opening verses from Isaiah chapter 40, which includes the famous line that will be repeated in the gospel of Luke chapter 3: “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” In the Hebrew imagination, wilderness and deserts are places of extreme stress, wild beasts, thirst, and chaos. It was a place where one could easily get lost. That’s why the fact that the adult John the Baptist will spend so much time there makes him even more unusual of a person.
In the most hostile of environments –wilderness and desert –the word of God offers comfort, respite, and safety, despite Israel’s sinfulness and fault. It is in these most unlikely of places that God’s comfort is offered and maintained. God’s comfort is a gift of grace in a time when all hope had been lost, when the fear of abandonment was seemingly permanent. Yet God’s promise remains true, and doesn’t depend upon human measurements of time to come to fulfillment.
As always, it is God who takes the initiative. At last, the light appears at the end of a long night. The Babylonian Exile, just like this ongoing pandemic, stripped the people of so much that mattered to them. Our own exile—from faith, from compassion, from dedication to community and true justice and equality—has also left us longing for meaning, for purpose.
We think we can make our own pathways straight to success, to crushing our opponents. It is part of the modern myth of independence that ignores how much we depend upon each other, and upon God.
Yet our paths to God are not required to be straight. It is often the most indirect, wandering stop-and start journeys that end up being the truest, because they don’t fool us into thinking that the life of abundance can actually be acquired. The broken road is often the road that leads us to God, because it strips away all our defenses and resistance to God.
The wilderness is no barrier to God– God loves the wilderness just the way it is. God even loves the wilderness inside us, the one that often scares us, because God made us with the ability to appreciate the beauty of wild things and wild places. God is willing to spend a lot of time in the wilderness with us. It is us who want the wilderness leveled, not God. Since when does God see the wilderness and respond with a construction crew and truck full of asphalt? God’s time is NOT our time, and God’s schedule is not our schedule. God likes to take the long way home, reminding us once again that God’s home is everywhere, wherever God is but not limited to one place.
John the Baptist’s life shows that the crooked path is also the path to true community, rejoicing in our interdependence. Where can you embrace the crooked path in your life today?
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers, meditations, and sermons at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.