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Faith: Advent thunder

Crosslake pastor shares a reflection on John the Baptist - despite whatever storm may come our way, Christ’s unconditional love and grace always provides a shelter and a new beginning

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It’s the season of Advent, as we anticipate Christ’s birth at Christmas and when he’ll come again.

One of the central figures this time of year is John the Baptist. For this year’s Second Sunday in Advent, the gospel was Matthew 3:1-12. The translation that our church used comes from "The Message" Bible written by Eugene Peterson.

In that translation, John the Baptist quotes Isaiah’s prophetic words this way: “Thunder in the desert! Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight!”

This goes along with John the Baptist’s call for repentance.

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This translation got me thinking about thunder. When we hear thunder, it gets our attention! It shakes us up to realize something is about to happen and perhaps we need to change course because something is coming.

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If you’re in a boat and hear thunder, you probably go into shore. If you’re outside on a ballfield or camping, you probably seek shelter.

At the very least, when we hear thunder, it makes us look to the sky to see what might be coming. It may not always rattle us these days to hear thunder like it did in ancient times, but thunder usually makes us prepare in one way or another for something.

John the Baptist, a strange figure in a strange land, truly embodies this thunder as he’s calling people to repent or change course in their lives. In this same translation, it says John the Baptist’s “message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: ‘Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.’”

That’s what John was pointing to with his “thunder” long ago, and his thunder still points to that now: the power and promise of Jesus Christ our Lord. God’s love made flesh for us.

And as we feel and experience this “thunder” yet today in different ways, it shakes us up and reminds us to second guess, take back or try to repair that choice/word/thought/action/phrase that caused harm to someone else or something else.

We repent, we change course, and for the power to do that, John the Baptist is pointing us to Christ — it is never too late to change course, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Again, the gospel proclaims that Jesus is “The main character in this drama — that ignites the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out.”

And Christ gives this power to us, to change course again and again through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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While we are preparing for so many things this Advent season with Christmas soon upon us, I do realize that John the Baptist and his thunder is just not on our radar. John the Baptist doesn’t come to our minds as we think of the many characters this time of year.

Usually it’s angels, shepherds, animals or Mary and Joseph of the Nativity or the merry and bright elves, Santa, reindeer and stockings by the chimney — John the Baptist and his thunder just doesn’t make the cut!

No decorations of him for the front yard! And that’s OK, he’s not the main character after all. But maybe, just maybe the next time we hear thunder (literally or metaphorically), we’ll look up to the sky and wonder what God is up to in our lives, and whether we might need to change course in one way or another.

And with that wondering, we can also give thanks that despite whatever storm may come our way, Christ’s unconditional love and grace always provides a shelter and a new beginning.

Kristin Oltmann is pastor at Crosslake Lutheran Church.

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