DEVOTION—JOHN THE BAPTIST
Have you experienced the frustration that comes when you try to point at something exciting, only for your audience to miss it? This happens frequently in my family when we’re on the road. I will see something that I want my young children to see as well. I will point and exclaim, “Look over there!” And my boys will be staring at my hand instead. I will more vigorously thrust my pointed finger back and forth to get them to look in that direction while their eyes will follow the movement of my hand and miss the moment entirely. Toddlers will do this. Don’t adults sometimes do the same?
When God sent John the Baptist, at that particular moment in history, to point out the Messiah, it is apparent that many people were stuck staring at the hand instead. However, God speaks very clearly through the Apostle John that John the Baptist “was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.” (John 1:8) Perhaps some people thought that the voice crying in the wilderness was the Lord Himself, rather than the one preparing the way for the Lord. Later, when Jesus asked His disciples who people thought He was, the disciples acknowledged, “Some say John the Baptist.” (Matthew 16:14) It appears that many people were missing John’s point.
As we begin another Advent season, we will all be circling back to the familiar pre-Christmas readings. But if our preparations for Christmas only skim the narrative surface of angel encounters and glad tidings, we might miss the point as well. Instead, let’s head out to the wilderness and listen to what John has to say. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” (Matthew 3:1-2)
Although we might not think of it in this way, the season of Advent is very similar to the season of Lent. Both are intended to be times of repentance. To use this Advent wisely, we must first take a good, long look in the mirror of God’s Law. There we find that even in this most joyous time of year, we have nothing to be joyful about—nothing that we can find in ourselves, anyway. Measuring ourselves against God’s lofty standards, we realize that we are hopelessly entrenched in our sinful inclinations. But true repentance involves not only sorrow over sin; we must then also follow the forerunner’s pointing finger to see where it leads. He is directing us to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) In Christ you may find peace, knowing that He has removed your sins as well.
It’s interesting that before John was born, the angel announced the boy’s birth, saying, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” (Luke 1:13) Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, were well along in years; in addition, Elizabeth was barren. And while we can’t eliminate the possibility that Zacharias was praying for a son, we do know that, as a priest, he was praying for his people. Daily he focused his eyes on the coming Savior and prayed for Israel’s consolation. God’s answer? A son who would be born with hand outstretched toward the new day of salvation.
Follow where his finger points, keeping your eyes focused on the same. Know that “your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation.” (Zechariah 9:9)
Samuel Rodebaugh is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Winter Haven, Florida.