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Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Baptizer

When I was perhaps six or seven years old we made a vacation stop at Carlsbad Caverns in Carlsbad, New Mexico. I did not appreciate the adventure as much as I could have being so young. Perhaps I was travel weary. Perhaps I was scared to death. Maybe both.

One feature along the path was dark hole opening up in the floor just a few feet beyond the rail. Not much separated small children from the void and there was no help to confidence in the placard that read, “The Bottomless Pit.” Walls and columns of stalagmites were lit up with blue and pink and white lights, but this hole was the epitome of all things black. I distinctly remember a rope ladder with wooden rungs anchored at the top of the hole spilling down into the abyss and it may be a trick of memory, but I recall the ladder seemed to be broken just about the place where the light ended and the yawning chasm began. There may have been some dusty scientific equipment staged to feed the imagination.

As if I was not terrified enough, my father was looking over the rail. This was not the walk-pause-gaze-snap-a-picture-and-move-on kind of look. “Gotta see more; get what you pay for, so let’s keep moving.” No, no. This was the peer-and-lean-over-the-rail kind of look. Like this-one-hole-was-the-price-of-admission kind of look. The kind of look that is usually followed by one leg going over the rail, then the next leg . . .

Did I mention I was terrified? While certain I could hear the screams of young hippy scientists that were still clinging to a broken ladder while dropping through very space itself, I could not bear that my dad was looking into that hole. I screamed, I cried, I clung, I begged him not look over the rail. Somehow, he made the point that he was safe.

“Well, at least let me hold your glasses, so they don’t fall off.” I whimpered.

“But how will I see?” he asked.

It was all a nightmare.

When John the Baptist was preaching and the whole countryside was going out to him, John makes an intriguing statement about himself. He says he is not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals of the greater one who is coming, the one about whom he is preaching. Ok, so what?

Rabbis in these times had followers, and some of these followers were servants. One act even the most pompous rabbi would never ask (or should never ask) of a servant is to untie his sandals. John says that he is not worthy to do even the most unthinkable even if were asked. This is not a reflection on the one who is doing the asking, but on himself as a servant. He is down-in-the-hole low.

John was standing up and announcing the Lord and people were not ready for Him. People responded by leaving where they were (literally and symbolically) and were coming out. He was saying what God has always said: Repent! Be overwhelmed with cleansing!

What do you think John’s ministry would be like today? Would it be any different now than it was then? Now think for a moment what you do for God, or say you do for God. Why is what we do any different? Could it be because we are not low enough, humble enough?

Consider: people went out to John, so what drives your ministry? Why do people come to where you are? Is it because of your location, your dress, your diet; or is it because from the hole of humility you proclaim the one who is greater, the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit?

Down in the hole it’s lonely and scary, but this is where the adventure begins . . .

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