As the people were filled with expectation and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Luke 3:15-22 [NRSV]
Sunday Jan. 13, 2019
I’m browsing Amazon, clicking idly from title to title. Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. Lagom: Not Too Little, Not Too Much: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. Amazon reviews suggests the specifics vary — hygge stresses the satisfaction of just being, ikigai advocates a fulfilling busy-ness, and lagom perfectly balances busy-ness and pause — but there is a sameness in the patterning of the titles and the covers (they tend towards folk-art simplicity in pastel tones) and in the promise that this approach to living will renew your life.
The trouble is that the pastel tones seem insufficient to counter the weight of the dailiness which wears me down. The dailiness of my own life; the dailiness of the lives with which I am woven in love — family, and friends, and their family and friends; the dailiness of the life of the wider web of the nation and the world, reported in the news. My soul aches with the weight of it all. Anger; division; hate; hurt. I close the news tab on my browser, go back to Amazon for more pastel prettiness, the promise of joy sparked and life changed through simple tidying. It’s not enough.
The people ‘were filled with expectation,’ Luke writes. It’s a hopeful phrase, suggesting a folk-art innocence. The people’s anticipation seems that of children — soon it will be wonderful, soon it will be now. Can such simple innocent hope bear the burden of my own weariness?
The two independent clauses in the English — ‘were filled … were questioning’ — in the grammar of the Greek is more dependent — ‘being filled with expectation, the people were questioning’ The expectation seems the condition which sets the people to questioning. The expectation and the inquiry are intertwined, not independent. Because the people are so filled, they ask.
More than that, the Greek verb is rougher than the English ‘expectation.’ The lexicon suggests the people were ‘waiting with apprehension or anxiety.’ Being anxious in their waiting, tense in their expectation, they encounter John and wonder, Is this he for whom we are waiting with such apprehension? Is this the one who will answer our need?
No, John tells them. I am not he. John speaks of gathering in and of burning clean. John recasts the weight of all the world’s pain as no more than chaff to be lifted on the wind and consumed by flame. And this is good news. Good news. He is coming, John says. And before the passage is done, he has come, and been named Beloved.
But the passage that ends with Jesus’ baptism, the heavenly proclamation of him as Son, begins with the people’s apprehension, the urgency of their expectation, a tension that drives them to wonder and to ask. Their insistent need is neither innocent nor incidental. It pulls at them; it pulls them. The people’s expectation strains from brokenness and lack towards wholeness and home. Towards life.
I need not flee the tension nor deny its aching weight. But through its claim that what is is not what should be nor what shall be, keep seeking and asking and offering my need. In expectation of answer through the voice of the text saying Child, saying Beloved, saying Pleased.
And the voice sustains the weight of the dailiness, eases the ache, revives the recollection of joy and the commitment to the promise, the proclamation of good news: One is coming.