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, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 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; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
If I had been there and heard John the Baptist as he offered a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, I might have slowly backed away until I was clean out of sight. Just as I have done nearly every time I hear that voice in my head saying, “You should really go to confession.”
I have been knitting recently. Now, those who knit are likely feeling akin to me as I write about knitting, so I should be honest and tell you, I am not a knitter. I took on this project a number of months ago because of my love for one of my sisters, and if it weren’t for love of her, I would have scrapped the project long ago and never looked back. My mother is a knitter, and there have been times when I have watched her work tirelessly for hours on a project only to notice an error she made a number of rows before. She would then, to my horror, mercilessly tear out row after row of her beautiful, tedious work to resolve the error. I have often said to her, “Mom, I would have just left it. No one would have noticed.” Even so, she would have noticed.
My same propensity to avoid backtracking to resolve an error I made in the past, shows itself in my desire to press on and forget about the little knitting blunders. Unfortunately, they are never really forgotten. In fact, they interrupt the carefully woven and unique motif God has been designing, and it’s hard for me to find my place again in the pattern without the rows of His original plan to use as a guide. In fact, sometimes, the mistake is of such a nature that it sticks out like a sore thumb.
So when John is calling out, offering to straighten out the crooked, and make the rough ways smooth, why would I back away rather than dive into the water? I believe the answer is largely, shame. This unholy spirit holds me down, and locks me up. What I find myself learning in recent days, is that there is a holy antidote to shame, and it is the spirit of compassion; self compassion, and more importantly, God’s compassion.
A truth that will follow me to the end of my earthly days is that I need to be cleansed, regularly… minute by minute at times. As Aundi Kolber says, “None of us graduate from our humanity.” I am human; imperfect. I need God’s compassion; His mercy. God’s compassion washes me clean.
John calls the people to be washed in the merciful waters of the Jordan so that they might be free from the burdensome clutter of their shame—the glaring detour due to the dropped stitch. He is offering to make space for the One who is coming to take up residence in its place. Because when He comes, overflowing with love, mercy, and compassion, we will find a new disposition within us—a complete and satisfying peace.