Street, River, Wild

Readings: Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6

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 the 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.’” Luke 3:1-6

Main street in Wareham village looks good. New sidewalks and lights, gardens and trees make it a welcoming place – a federally funded facelift that encourages tourists and residents alike to spend time here. Riverside Cafe serves a tasty breakfast at a low price, Twigs & Tides offers the wares of local artists, Minerva’s has great pizza, and the post office staff is friendly and efficient. Bait and tackle, dog grooming, legal advice, haircuts, chiropractic adjustment, and gas for the car are all here in this half mile space.

The odd thing about Main Street: the businesses closest to the Agawam river face away from the water. Changing tides and graceful wildlife are blocked from view by walls, storage rooms, and dumpsters. Riverside Cafe’s customers see the insurance office, but not the river. The exception is Cafe Soleil; when it was Merchant’s Way Cafe years back, the owners built the dining room on the water side.

The Agawam has its own life, not limited to the needs and preferences of the people who currently live near it. It flows with fresh water and salty tides, swaddles fish and oysters and the diving birds that eat them; it hosts fisher cats and coyotes, and destroys homes and streets when it floods. I wonder if these buildings turn away from the river to avoid facing this fearfully and wonderfully made wilderness right in the middle of Wareham – and if they are aware that the road they crouch around leads to the wilderness at their backs.

The word of God didn’t come to Main street, with its town leaders and clergy. It didn’t come to those who stick to the paved streets and never give the wilderness in their sight (much less the wilderness beyond them) a second glance. It came to the radical son of a priest who left the safety of sidewalks and streetlights for the danger and beauty of a wilderness unmarked and unexplored by the tame and fearful. John brought this word of God to the Jordan, coming to the edge of civilization to preach and baptize. He traded the wilderness outside, made holy by the voice of God, for the wilderness of desperate human hearts and spirits. Those who heard God’s word repented, turning around to face the unknown and plunge into the river at its edge, preparing and waiting for the Lord.

It’s not easy to turn around and face the wilderness, and it offers little to gain in way of fame or fortune. I hope I have the courage and good sense to turn anyway: it’s the only way I’ll see the salvation of God in my broken, small, holy life.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

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Johnna

I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

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