Wednesday 9 December 2009

Advent themes: desert calling

telephone kiosk

Once upon a time this is how everyone but the seriously wealthy made a personal phone call – from a public telephone box or kiosk. As a student at University in the 1970’s I would ring home once a week using something similar. No emails, no internet, no texts, no tweets, no Skype. Nada. Nothing. Outside the workplace in that pre-digital world the choice was either snail mail letters or the phone box.

Modern mobiles such as the BlackBerry and iPhone have revolutionised the way in which we communicate. Nowadays its all so comfortable, convenient and easy. As long as you have a signal you can be in touch however, wherever and whenever you want. And as long as your phone is charged up and switched on anyone else can be in touch with you too.

So today this public telephone is a curio, a throwback to a time when being in touch meant effort. Whatever the weather you had to go to where the nearest phone box was. Often you had to wait your turn to use it. You had to make sure you had enough coins to make the call, or be prepared to ring the operator and reverse the charges. How old-school, uncomfortable and inconvenient that now seems.

Yet this is exactly the parallel I have in mind as I recall that people had to physically get up and go the distance into the desert in order to be in touch with John the Baptist’s message. It didn’t come to them on their terms where they were. It was the very antithesis of nice, easy and convenient. Baptism wasn’t available by pressing the # key. Redemption was not a mouse-click or keystroke away. It required determination, effort and a real commitment  to take your private life into a public space.

And this is the key: encountering  John the Baptist was a very public act. It demonstrated intention. It was a time to nail your colours to the mast and stand up and stand out for what you believed. The faith that took shape was that of a movement of people inspired and energised  by a common message. Those who returned to the cities, towns and villages were not the same stream of disconnected individuals who had journeyed from them to find John. Shared identity and common purpose had been forged.

God was calling in the desert, and you had to make the journey in order to pick up the meaning.  Perhaps the very public context was part of the message. Out there, gathered together in the desert, the public nature and intention of faith would have been obvious. This message was about the transformation of society and the world.  The responses of individuals to God’s message took on a collective meaning in the public space of the desert and on the banks of the Jordan. Here, represented in hundreds of individual acts of faith commitment, was God’s preparation of communal good news for the poor. All that remained was for Jesus to stride out of that same wilderness as the embodiment of the message. And then it really would become in your face and personal.


  1. How can i translate your commentary so that it's applicable to my on-going relationship with JESUS?

    GOD did call me from the desert -- a self-induced Wilderness, where i too wandered 40 years. When i received His LORDship over my life, it was "easy" because it had cost GOD so much to make it easy for me. Yet it's also not easy because believing in JESUS as Savior can take much brokenness to get there, or much humility -- which may be the harder, for pride is such a stronghold for most, including myself.

    And it does take effort -- my personal will to immerse in His Word, to surrender to Him daily, to pray unceasingly, to maintain close fellowship with Him. And in today's spiritual decline, to stand up and show my colors -- the blood of CHRIST -- with steadfast commitment as the obvious signs of Revelation are more clearly seen and accepted as inevitable by those who believe in the Second Advent of the CHRIST.

  2. Thanks for sharing this.Just like facets catching the light, my experience is that different aspects of the same Advent text will hold my attention as I turn it around in my mind. And there is truth for me in each one.

  3. Hi there! I have stumbled your blog like a stone on the street, for was looking for the meaning of the feeling of being called out by a desert... I am not a jesus worshipper just a free thinker not an atheist nor related to any organization. Just putting a foot print here have a nice day!!

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