Dave Zelenka, Baptism of Christ, 2005, https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56385, Copyright © Jean and Alexander Heard Library and the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, a division of the Heard Library, 2007.
This Midweek Message devotional comes from the sermon offered in the 9am service on the Second Sunday of Advent, 12/10/2023, at Friends Church.
He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8, CEB). John the Baptist is giving off some Bachman-Turner Overdrive vibes out there in the wilderness: “If you think what I’m doing out here is amazing—baptizing all these people—just wait; because, baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
This theme of things that seem good to us now being promised to be even better is common in Scripture. But how can we shout from the rooftops that even better things are coming when the roof appears to be caving in right now? How do we make a Savior that we anticipate being born into this world anew on Christmas relevant to a world where genocidal violence is transpiring right before our eyes in Gaza; suicide is an epidemic and mental illness is still stigmatized; poverty afflicts almost two out of every ten people in the U.S. and is seen as the fault of those unable to pay for their own healthcare, housing, and food in the richest country in the world; and crimes committed by those in the highest echelons of social privilege are heralded as heroic for bucking the system? I don’t really know. But I do know that this low valley we’re in is why Advent is so important.
Advent is about waiting with intentionality for what is coming. It’s a season of holding space, not turning our eyes away from what’s wrong, and just sitting in that mess and allowing the world’s open wounds the air they need to breathe. This holy season is when we enter the shadows of despair and light candles that burn with a simple, faithful message: it gets better.
The It Gets Better Project is a nonprofit org with a mission to “uplift, empower, and connect LGBTQ youth around the globe.” It started 13 years ago, when LGBTQ+ people and allies all over the world experiencing and witnessing the afflictions of queer phobia uttered three words that would give rise to a global movement: it gets better. A wildly successful social media campaign was born, with more than 70,000 people sharing their stories to provide hope and encouragement to young LGBTQ+ people. The message said, “This low valley moment is just that—a moment—and you’re not alone in it. There are people going through the same thing and having compassion about the injustice of it all, and they’re waiting with you in that mess. So hold on. Just wait. It gets better.”
Part of following Jesus in the low valley days of this season is feeling the weight of the world and making intentional space for that pain. Advent gives us a glimpse of God’s amazing goodness by opening our eyes to this world’s beauty and its brokenness; and in that glimpse, we are reminded of the truth we are called to remain faithful to in all times and circumstances: it gets better. What remains to be seen is in the hands of all who follow Jesus into the mystery of God with exemplified instructions to give hope where there is only despair, to make peace where there is conflict, to share joy where sorrow is heavy, and show love where people are led to believe that they and their neighbors are unloveable. As John the Baptist points to Jesus, Advent points to Christmas not as the conclusion of the story of God’s goodness, but of it’s beginning. Where we go from here is in the hands of imperfect people like you and me who God looks at and says, “Good.”