Advent 3: When the Prison Bars Bled Light

By Jan Richardson


When the Prison Bars Bled Light © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 2, Year A: Matthew 11.2-11

A week in which I haven’t had a lot of hurry left in me. Much to do that seems important, much of it done, but in the midst of it, a craving for Advent quiet and rest.

Finally, last night, a few hours in the studio. Laying gold paint upon the papers that will find their way into the collages to come. One layer of gold, then another. Placing them to dry on newspapers on the floor. Gary pokes his head into the room, sees the papers, comments on the pathway of gold.

Later, after the drying, I pick up a few of the shimmering sheets. Cover the gold entirely with gray. Let the gray dry just enough, then take sandpaper to it.

All through the painting, the drying, the sanding, watching the gold emerge from the gray, I am thinking about John the Baptist, the Preparer of the Way who now sits in prison. His path brought to an abrupt and unjust end.

This is the John of whom we read in Luke 1, where his mother, Elizabeth, says to her kinswoman Mary, “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” A leap of recognition, Luke means us to see: even in his mother’s womb, John the Way-Maker, John the Messenger, is able to discern and recognize the One for whom the world has longed.

It is a far different enclosure that John finds himself in now. He will not emerge from this one into life, as when he left the safe confines of his mother’s womb. This enclosure will lead instead to his death at a gruesome dinner party.

And yet, even here, John’s powers of discernment are at full force. Enclosed within his cell, John has not closed in on himself. This one whom Jesus calls a messenger is still receiving messages. Is still keeping his ears and eyes open. Is still able to turn his attention beyond himself. “When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing . . .” Matthew writes. That phrase. When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing. How the Word permeates even the prison walls. Shines forth even through the prison bars. Illuminates the darkest cell.

I think about these things as, beneath the sandpaper, gold begins to peek through the gray. Think of how John in his confinement refused to stop looking, stop preparing, stop seeing. Even in his enforced and final enclosure, John persists in turning an eye toward the Messiah. Seeks him. Inquires after him. When John’s disciples return to him with news of the blind who see, the lame who walk, the lepers made whole, he knows. Recognizes once again. Leaps, perhaps, for joy.

And what of us? In these Advent days, how do we turn our attention beyond our own walls, beyond our own limits? How do we open ourselves to hear and see past what presses in upon us, that we may receive the message, the Word that comes to us?

In this season, may you hear and see the One who comes, and proclaim the news of what he is doing. Blessings.

[To use the “When the Prison Bars Bled Light” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

4 Responses to “Advent 3: When the Prison Bars Bled Light”

  1. Jason Says:

    Remarkable: the image of the artwork which shows light shining through the prison doors. What is most amazing about the image, is that there seems to be some sort of forest depicted through the bars of the prison !

    May Jesus bless you Rev.Richardson this present advent .

    Sincere Regards ,

  2. Beth Richardson Says:

    Thank you, Jan. I was hurrying around and stopped to read your post. I am blessed by the description of your process, your reflection on the scripture, your sharing.

    Blessings,
    Beth

  3. Lisa Degrenia Says:

    “It is a far different enclosure that John finds himself in now. He will not emerge from this one into life, as when he left the safe confines of his mother’s womb. This enclosure will lead instead to his death at a gruesome dinner party…. And yet…”

    Thank you for this connection and insight. I hadn’t seen it before. More light in the darkness to celebrate. PAX- Lisa <

  4. Nik Says:

    Jan – this was just the ‘tonic’ I needed. Thanks for your words 🙂

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