How can we be ready to meet King Jesus?
A friend of the family used to be equerry to Queen Elizabeth II, and the equerry’s job was to be a personal assistant to the monarch; to go ahead of her, make arrangements, prepare the transport, ensure the red carpet was rolled out, and when the Queen arrived at her destination, to introduce or announce her. Due to the close working partnership, equerries often formed deep bonds with their monarchs and many, such as my family friend, became dear friends.
There is a long tradition of equerries to royalty, spanning all cultures and epochs, and it should come as no surprise that Jesus Christ, being the King of all Creation, should have his own equerry, and that equerry was a man called John, son of Zechariah, who we later dubbed John the Baptist.
In the same way that the arrival of the physical Queen of England required people to make physical preparations, so the arrival of the King of all things spiritual required people to make spiritual preparations, and it was John’s job to help them get ready.
John began his ministry, not in the cities or the citadels, but in the wilderness, and his attire and diet were that of an old-school prophet. He lived minimally and without luxury. Why would he be in the desert and be equerry to the King like this? Surely, the place to announce the arrival of the coming King would be in the palaces and temples of Jerusalem? It was because Jesus himself was born in a stable, born an outsider, born into poverty — because the King was coming to claim his kingdom for the marginalised, the rough-sleepers, and the outcasts — that John began his ministry amongst such people in the wild places. So what did John ask people to do to get ready for the coming King? He called them to repent, shouting, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”
Repentance means to literally make a conscious decision to change one’s mind and go in a different life-direction. It means to recognise that we are on a spiritual journey and that we need to commit to heading in a Godly direction rather than our own, and so John called the people living in that region of Judea, to repent. Those living in the cities would have to leave the comforts of their lifestyles and the luxury of their apartments, and trek into the wilderness and to the River Jordan to hear John’s message. They too would have to identify themselves with the lowest of the low and it would take courage, effort, and discipline to make the journey.
Of course, spiritual decisions have physical consequences, and if we choose to live according to our own needs, wants, and desires, then this will have an impact on ourselves and our relationships with others — and not all of the consequences will be beneficial. And because the spiritual and physical are interlinked and inseparable, it should come as no surprise that the repentance called for by John was marked with a physical expression — something to be witnessed, felt, and experienced.
To symbolise or mark the occasion of spiritual repentance taking place, people were baptised. Baptism literally means to plunge, and the plunging in water was a symbol of the old being washed away and the person rising from the water to a new way of life — a new life-direction. It was a way of identifying themselves with the mission and purpose of the King that was to come.
Every year we tell the story of Jesus and it begins in the season we are in right now, called Advent. It is a countdown to the arrival of King Jesus at Christmas. Traditionally, during Advent, we think about those that played their part and prepared the way for the coming King, including John the Baptist. And as we think about those that prepared for his first coming, we also think about how, today, we can prepare to meet Jesus in the here-and-now.
The method of preparing to meet Jesus is exactly the same as it was all those years ago. It is to repent and be baptised — to literally take the plunge into a new way of life. We do not need to head into the wilderness to repent, although perhaps it is not unexpected that many find peaceful places in nature or quiet church buildings helpful when focusing on God. Many of us here in Bermuda were baptised as children in our parish church, but baptism without repentance is like proudly wearing a medal for a sporting event in which you never competed. Competing in the event is the important bit!
Repentance, marked by baptism, has a positive impact on ourselves and those around us. When asked how they should behave once they had repented and been baptised, John urged the people to a new life of generosity, acceptance, forgiveness, honesty, love, and integrity — all physical manifestations of a new spiritual reality.
This Advent, as you think upon the imminent arrival of Jesus at Christmas, perhaps you would like to repent and start a new life-direction, one towards God? Every Sunday, at least in Anglican churches, we include a simple act of repentance and a renewal of our baptism vows, providing an opportunity for everyone to turn back to God and recommit to a new life-direction.
There are many of us on the island who are modern equerries to King Jesus, and who would love to help guide you on your spiritual journey. Perhaps take the plunge and get in touch with your local pastor, take a bold step to try and connect with God in nature or in your local church building, or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org? I would love to hear from you.
With every Advent blessing.