23 Dec 2016
The Old Testament closes with a blessing and a curse. The blessing is a promise of reconciliation: the hearts of people will be turned toward one another and toward God. And the curse is that impiety and hardness of heart will lead to complete destruction. What we end up with is a fork in the road. We can go down the path of blessing, or down the path of “doom.” And the one who makes us see the fork in the road is John the Baptist.
Now, I imagine we’ve all heard stories about car accidents, or other dire situations where things would ordinarily turn out badly. But then—suddenly—a tragedy was averted at the last second. Well, that moment of grace, that moment of rescue and salvation is the fork in the road. Where destruction would be the normal outcome, suddenly, a way to safety presents itself.
As we know, we humans sometimes find ourselves in harm’s way; sometimes by our own doing, sometimes not. Maybe we struggle with unforgiveness and bitterness of heart. Maybe we discover that we’re a glutton and slothful. Or maybe we don’t even know that something’s wrong. And in those situations (which happen practically every day), God opens up a fork in the road. And the fork in the road is God’s intervention, his mercy, his grace.
Perhaps that’s why the angel Gabriel and Zechariah insisted that John be named John—because the name John means: “God [Yahweh] is gracious.” With John, all humanity is shown God’s graciousness and mercy. And John does that by calling people to repentance and to Jesus. Jesus and the message of God’s forgiveness is the fork in the road; that is God’s merciful intervention. Jesus and reconciliation is the way of safety that is presented to us.
And the whole of the New Testament is about Jesus saying, “Come to me! I will keep you safe! Come to me!” John shows us the fork in the road in our lives. And the fork in the road is Jesus. The thing about a fork in the road, though, is that for a little while you can sort of straddle both forks. We can live a life of faith and a life of “unfaith” at the same time. We can love God and, at the same time, hate our neighbors (or vice versa).
But, at some point, as life moves forward, we’re going to have to make a choice. We can take either the path of blessing, or the path of the curse. We can love God and neighbor, or we live a life of bitterness and hatred. We will follow Jesus and be safe, or we will not. With the coming celebration of Christmas, we celebrate the opening of the way to safety; we celebrate God’s graciousness and his desire that everyone should lead a blessed life.
As gracious as God is, the choice is, nonetheless, ours to make. John the Baptist reveals a fork in the road for us. Jesus says, “Come to me and be safe!” But the choice to go with him is ours. And it’s a choice—it’s an opportunity—we’re given every day.
The psalm has it right: “Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand” [Lk 21:28]. Lift up your heads and see! Jesus is here . . .