Where to Begin?
Be comforted, be comforted my people!
Though most of us are not experiencing the tribulations ancient Israel had to live through, there is plenty enough distress in human lives these days. Plenty enough reason for us to need to be comforted. Economic systems teeter on the brink of collapse. Political systems (or, at least, the politicians in charge of them) no longer seem adequate to the task. The old are not sure of their pensions. The young cannot find jobs. People are at risk of losing their homes.
We do not have to look only to God’s prophets to hear apocalyptic warnings in our day. We have been exiled from our usual ‘comfort zone’, exiled from the familiar comforts of a taken-for-granted prosperity. Old certainties have given way to new anxieties. It would be easy to respond with a false optimism, the kind that agitates protests but changes nothing. Everything’s going to turn out fine: when we turn out one government for another or when the politicians put another jumble of laws on the books or when the heads of nations cook up yet another half-baked debt deal.
None of these schemes seems likely to solve our problems. The stock market—that modern barometer of the world’s expectations—oscillates wildly between hope and despair, as one quick-fix solution after another fleetingly evaporates. In spite of the hardship that people are now facing, there is cause for hope. When the status quo becomes intolerable, people look for change. People demand change.
We Christians should give support to the yearnings of a broken world looking for a chance to start afresh, the chance for a new advent.
Yearning such as these must have been why so many people went out to hear the message of John the Baptist. They went into the place of ‘beginnings’ which is what the desert represented. It was there that the people of God were found by him and from there that they were led by him.
There are many these days who promise that a new world is coming. If we profess hope and believe in the possibility of change, they urge, then we can build a new world. The truth is that we cannot build it. We must allow God to build it with us and in us. We are to become the living stones of God’s new creation. As we know, John the Baptist did not flinch from denouncing injustices and demanding righteousness from those who claimed to be leaders of the people. Neither John nor the mightier one coming after him was especially interested in reforming structures or changing systems. They challenged people to change their lives.
This new world, this new kingdom begins not with a change of regime but with a change of heart—that is, with conversion. John tells us ‘your job is to change you and in this way your world will be changed’. Be comforted, be comforted my people! You can begin again; but begin with you.