God Comes with Comfort & Challenge

December 9, 2017 by M. Thomas Thangaraj (India)

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
-Mark 1:4

We all know that it is not easy to accept criticism, especially when we are fully convinced that all is well with us. I turn in my best-written paper to my professor, and when I get it back, it pains me to read through all the critical remarks in the margin in red ink! We learn in the course of time to accept that a spouse's criticism actually signifies his or her love for us. True friendship does involve a willingness to point out the errors in the other and call for change.

We have such a friend in John the Baptizer. Every year on the second Sunday of Advent, we remember the ministry of John the Baptizer as he prepares the way for Jesus' ministry. As we make ready to receive Christ who comes to us in every moment of our lives, John calls us to turn around and make a new beginning in our lives every day. That is why his is a baptism “of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

The repentance that John proclaims involves a shift from an attachment to penultimate things to a commitment to the Ultimate. He carefully points out to his followers that he is not the one they should look for. He is simply a preacher pointing to the ultimate source of life in all its fullness. He points to Jesus and says, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

In this season of Advent we take stock of the penultimate things and persons that demand our attention and loyalty and turn around to a commitment to Christ, the ultimate source of joy and peace.

O God, grant me the wisdom to recognize the lesser things and turn around to adore you as my ultimate source of life. Amen.

Dr. M. Thomas Thangaraj is D.W. and Ruth Brooks Professor Emeritus of World Christianity at Emory School of Theology. He lives in India. 

From The Upper Room Disciplines 2011. Copyright © 2010 The Upper Room. All Rights Reserved. Subscribe to The Upper Room Disciplines, online edition

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