Summary: John baptizes, bear fruit worthy of repentance and share what you have.

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God and Suffering is one of the greatest conundrums that people of faith face. Where is God in pain, persecution and loss? The length of suffering increases the questions. It is one thing to struggle with God's presence when one is turned down for a job promotion, or has gall bladder surgery. It is something else to discern God's movement when pain continues for years, persecution is beyond our escape, or the sickness is incurable.

During the past several days, I have become aware, or I have been reminded of several people--family, friends, and parishioners--who have experienced immense suffering over an extended period of time. I have been at a loss as to what to say to them. Offering to keep them in prayer seems so inadequate.

The stories of John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus speak to our human condition. Whether we have experienced a lifetime of pain, or struggle with a disappointing loss or failure, these stories share the good news of God's love and grace with us.

God's Involvement

As we enter the story, our attention is drawn to historical markers.

The New Revised Standard Version The Proclamation of John the Baptist

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,

God enters human history. We have just celebrated God's incarnation--God becoming human--in the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child. God does not limit God's involvement to one person. Rather, God is involved in a multitude of people and in a number of ways. God is present.

This truth is accentuated in Luke's quote from Isaiah 40 ...

The New Revised Standard Version The Proclamation of John the Baptist

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.

5 Every valley shall be filled,

and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,

and the rough ways made smooth;

6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

This passage was addressed to the Jewish Exiles, who were living in Babylon in the sixth century BCE. It was a message meant to give them hope as they endured decades of hardships, poverty and persecution. God was coming to them. God was involving himself in their lives.

In the middle of suffering, we are able to say something more than, "I'll pray for you." We can assert that God is present. God has not abandoned God's people. God "has not left the building."

In the Meantime ....

The question we face is now changed. We no longer need to ask, "Where is God in my suffering?" We know that God is with us in the midst of our pain and despair. We now are faced with the question, "How are we to live with our pain?"

John would first encourage us to turn our attention away from our pain (as much as we can) and turn toward God. Living in a relationship with God we can walk in a newness of life that comes with God's love, forgiveness, mercy and grace.

The New Revised Standard Version The Proclamation of John the Baptist

He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins

John told the people who came out into the wilderness to hear him preach that they needed to "Bear fruits worthy of repentance." In other words they were to give evidence of the new lives they were now living. The crowd asked John to be more specific. "What then should we do?" they questioned.

John's answer underscored the love that can be experienced in everyday life. We are not charged to do great things. We are called, though, to do loving things.

The New Revised Standard Version The Proclamation of John the Baptist

Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

The New Revised Standard Version The Proclamation of John the Baptist

Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”

The New Revised Standard Version The Proclamation of John the Baptist

Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

The Holy Spirit and Fire

Many people thought John was the person they had been waiting their all of their lives for, the Messiah. John squashed that idea. The Messiah was coming after him and the Messiah would not baptize with water, but rather with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

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