Archive for the ‘Gospel of John’ Category

Christmas Day: Where the Light Begins

December 25, 2015

Where the Light BeginsImage: Where the Light Begins © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels for Christmas Day: John 1.1-14

The true light, which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.
—John 1.9

So I was having an Advent chat recently with my friend Fr. Rob Lord. The rector of a church that has been a place of solace for me in recent months, Fr. Rob is a soul of insight and grace. His office adjoins the church playground, and as we talked on that afternoon, an angel periodically bobbed up in the window, complete with a tinsel halo, cardboard wings, and, for a bit of flair, a Rudolph-red nose.

The angel appeared from time to time as Fr. Rob and I talked of such things as Advent and grief, the communion of saints, seasons and time and eternity. Our conversation turned to Saint John of the Cross, the medieval Spanish mystic known particularly for his stunning writings about the dark night of the soul.

God is radiantly illuminating us in ways we cannot see or feel or know, Fr. Rob said at one point. On that Advent afternoon, with the shimmering, cardboard-winged, Rudolph-nosed angel at play on the other side of the window, I tucked those words into my heart.

And now, writing this in the dark hours as Christmas Eve turns into Christmas Day, I pass Fr. Rob’s words along to you, in the company of this blessing. In these hours, in these days, though we cannot see or feel or know all the ways that God is radiantly illuminating us, may we open ourselves toward that light. May we open our eyes, our hands, our hearts to meet it. May we lean into the light that begins in the deepest dark, bearing itself into this world for us.

O my beloved friends. Merry Christmas!

Where the Light Begins
A Blessing for Christmas

Perhaps it does not begin.
Perhaps it is always.

Perhaps it takes
a lifetime
to open our eyes,
to learn to see
what has forever
shimmered in front of us—

the luminous line
of the map
in the dark

the vigil flame
in the house
of the heart

the love
so searing
we cannot keep
from singing,
from crying out
in testimony
and praise.

Perhaps this day
will be the mountain
over which
the dawn breaks.

Perhaps we
will turn our face
toward it,
toward what has been

our eyes
will finally open
in ancient recognition,
willingly dazzled,
illuminated at last.

Perhaps this day
the light begins
in us.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace

P.S. This Luminous Darkness: Friends, I have been so moved by the responses I’ve received to the article I recently shared here about traveling with grief in this season. I want to let you know that the article (“This Luminous Darkness: Searching for Solace in Advent and Christmas”) is now available as a PDF for ease of downloading and printing for yourself or sharing with others. Given that Christmas is a season (leading up to Epiphany on January 6) and not just a single day, we still have a rich opportunity to linger with the stories of this season and the treasures they hold. To download or print the PDF, click the image or link below:

This Luminous Darkness:
Searching for Solace in Advent and Christmas

New from Jan Richardson

CIRCLE OF GRACE: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Circle of GraceWithin the struggle, joy, pain, and delight that attend our life, there is an invisible circle of grace that enfolds and encompasses us in every moment. Blessings help us to perceive this circle of grace, to find our place of belonging within it, and to receive the strength the circle holds for us. from the Introduction

Beginning in Advent and moving through the sacred seasons of the Christian year, Circle of Grace offers Jan’s distinctive and poetic blessings that illuminate the treasures each season offers to us. A beautiful gift this Advent and Christmas. Available in print and ebook.

Order the book


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To use the image “Where the Light Begins,” please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Advent special! During this season, subscribe to Jan Richardson Images and receive unlimited digital downloads for only $125 per year (regularly $165). Click Subscribe to sign up.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Advent 3: Testify to the Light

December 12, 2014

Testify to the LightImage: Testify to the Light  © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 3, Year B: John 1.6-8, 19-28

He came as a witness to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
– John 1.7

In Belfast there is a woman who lights candles for Gary and me. She has a gift for finding thin places: an eleventh-century stone sanctuary; a whitewashed church in the mountains of Wales; a chapel crypt on the Yorkshire moors that holds the bones of Saint Cedd. In those places, on an altar or in the chink of a wall, Jenny lights a candle, and she prays—not merely in memory of what was, but in hope and in blessing for love that endures and life that persists on both sides of the veil.

Here on my brokenhearted side of the veil, the light comes as solace and unexpected grace. In this dark time, when there is no one who can walk this road for me or lessen what has been lost with Gary’s death, the light comes as a vivid reminder that we have, at the least, the power to help illuminate the path for each other.

It matters that we hold the light for one another. It matters that we bear witness to the Light that holds us all, that we testify to this Light that shines its infinite love and mercy on us across oceans, across borders, across time.

Who holds the light for you? In this season, who might need you to hold the light for them in acts of love and grace?

Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light

Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
who testify
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
in shadow
and grief.

Blessed are you
in whom
the light lives,
in whom
the brightness blazes—
your heart
a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith
in stubborn hope
in love that illumines
every broken thing
it finds.

– Jan Richardson

For previous reflections on this passage, visit Where I’m From and Advent 3: The Prayer Book of John the Baptist.

An Advent Journey…

ILLUMINATED 2014 — Still open!
Are you hungry for an experience that invites you into Advent without stressing your schedule? There’s still time to join us for this online journey! The retreat has begun, but we can easily catch you up. Offering a space of elegant simplicity as you travel toward Christmas, the Illuminated retreat fits easily into the rhythm of your days, anywhere you are. For info and registration, visit ILLUMINATED 2014.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Testify to the Light,” please visit this page at (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. (Be sure to check out our Advent special on annual subscriptions at the images site! $125, regularly $165.)

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Christmas Day: Shines in the Darkness

December 25, 2012

Image: Shines in the Darkness © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Christmas Day, Years ABC: John 1.1-14

Throughout this season, Gary and I have been leading an online Advent retreat and have loved traveling through these days in the company of folks from around the world. This is the reflection we are sharing with them for Christmas Day.

When I think of my artistic ancestors—the creative people whose lives and work have inspired and informed my own—I trace my lineage back to the Middle Ages. My artful family tree includes the medieval monks and nuns who labored at their desks with paint and ink, working by hand to create sacred books: gospel-books, prayer books, Psalters. I think of scribes who traced each letter upon the vellum, artists who saturated pages with their pigments, so often adding the shimmering gold that would give rise to the name for such manuscripts: illuminated.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Many illuminated manuscripts required months or years to create, involving what might strike us as a staggering amount of time and expense. We may wonder at why these books warranted such extravagance, when they could have been fashioned more simply. Yet for the artist and scribe, creating an illuminated manuscript often became a lavish act of devotion, a fitting response to the God who created us and came among us with such extravagant love.

What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.

I am continually enchanted and inspired by the artists and scribes who poured themselves out in creating these luminous books that became a form of prayer, of proclamation, of sacrament. These artful ancestors understood how a book could become what the Celtic tradition has called a thin place—a space where heaven and earth meet, and we recognize more clearly the presence of the God who is always present to us.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

Although my work looks little like that of the medieval artists and scribes, their devotion inspires and, I pray, infuses the pages I create in paper and in cyberspace. In their illuminated intertwining of Word and image and light and prayer, I find an invitation and a challenge for my own creative work: that it may be a place of such intertwining, that it may be a space where heaven and earth meet, that it may be a way the Word  takes flesh in me and shines through me.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory . . .
full of grace and truth.

As we cross into Christmas Day, where do you see the Word taking flesh in this world? How does the Word take flesh in you, become light shining through you? Who are your sources of inspiration as you open yourself to this? Are you listening for where and how Christ might be seeking to take form in you, to bring life to you, to illuminate you?

This day, may Christ the Word speak anew in your life, and may Christ our Light illumine your way. Merry Christmas!

P.S. For a previous reflection for Christmas Day (including the Christmas blessing “How the Light Comes”), click the image or title below:

And the Darkness Did Not Overcome It

Christmas Day: How the Light Comes

[To use the image “Shines in the Darkness,” please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

Christmas Day: How the Light Comes

December 21, 2011

And the Darkness Did Not Overcome It © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Christmas Day, Years ABC: John 1.1-14

I love how John tells it. His version of the Christmas story is absent of anything we can put into a manger scene—no baby Jesus, no Mary who dared to say yes to an archangel, no Joseph who risked believing in his dreams and allied himself with Mary and her child. No shepherds. No angels. No far-traveling, gift-bearing Magi wafting in on the fragrances of frankincense and myrrh.

John pares away the Christmas story to its essence: The Word. Light. Life. Dwelling among us. In the flesh.

Glory and grace and truth.

In his telling, John the Evangelist invokes John the Baptist, Jesus’ way-making cousin who haunts the season of Advent. Himself a pared-down figure—the wilderness having worn away anything that would have hindered him from his call—John the Baptist is utterly at home in John the Evangelist’s telling of the story that enchants with its poetic simplicity and beauty. The Baptist knows about the basics, knows about getting to the heart of things, knows what it means to divest ourselves of anything that hinders us from preparing a way for the Word and proclaiming its presence in our midst.

And so for this day, in the Spirit of John the Evangelist and John the Baptist, a simple blessing and a prayer: that we may tell the story, that we may testify to the light, that the Word may take flesh in us this day and in all the days to come.

How the Light Comes:
A Blessing for Christmas Day

I cannot tell you
how the light comes.

What I know
is that it is more ancient
than imagining.

That it travels
across an astounding expanse
to reach us.

That it loves
searching out
what is hidden
what is lost
what is forgotten
or in peril
or in pain.

That it has a fondness
for the body
for finding its way
toward flesh
for tracing the edges
of form
for shining forth
through the eye,
the hand,
the heart.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way
into the deepest dark
that enfolds you,
though it may seem
long ages in coming
or arrive in a shape
you did not foresee.

And so
may we this day
turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces
to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies
to follow the arc it makes.
May we open
and open more
and open still

to the blessed light
that comes.

P.S. For previous reflections for Christmas Day, click the images or titles below:

Christmas Day: Witness of that Light

Tangled Up in You

Door 25: The Book of Beginnings

Christmas Day: An Illuminated Joy

[Thanks to Jenee Woodard for featuring the “And the Darkness Did Not Overcome It” image this week at The Text This Week. To use this image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

Advent 3: The Prayer Book of John the Baptist

December 8, 2011

Prayer Book of John the Baptist © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 3, Year B: John 1.6-8, 19-28

The Prayer Book of John the Baptist

Is written on
locusts’ wings.

Is stained with
wild honey.

Is buckled by
baptismal waters.

Is mostly
pages of wilderness
where prayers are formed
not from what is present
but from what has been
worn away.

Is inscribed
with an ancient path.

Is waiting.

Is falling open
toward the light.

For the 2014 reflection on this passage, click the image or title below:

Testify to the Light
Advent 3: Testify to the Light

For a previous reflection on this passage, click this image or title:

Where I’m From

For a reflection on this Sunday’s reading from Isaiah, visit:

Raising the Ruins

[To use the “Prayer Book of John the Baptist” image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

Christmas Day: An Illuminated Joy

December 24, 2010

Reading from the Gospels, Christmas Day, Years ABC: John 1.1-14

Greetings at the end of a day that has included a visit from our friend Eric, in town from Italy; driving with Gary to north Florida, where much of my family lives; and a Christmas Eve service at the white painted church in the pines of my hometown.

I had been invited to lead the candlelighting portion of the Christmas Eve service, which is always done in memory of those who have died since the last time we gathered on this night. I spoke of how John tells the Christmas story in his gospel: how, in his prologue, there is no manger, no inn to be turned away from; there are no angels, no shepherds, no wise men. John leaves these matters to others. Yet his telling of the incarnation has a strange beauty and power all its own. This, I said, is how he tells it:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God . . . .
What has come into being
in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

I spoke of how we were there tonight, gathered in that place, because of generations of people who went before us, each generation telling the next about the Word who came among us as life and as light. I read the names of the beloved dead who had carried the light of Christ among us, including my aunt who died just a few weeks ago. Then the children walked through the congregation, touching their tapers to our waiting candles.

After the service, after the family dinner that followed, we headed just a little farther north to my parents’ home. The moon was low and orange as we crossed Paynes Prairie. Somewhere in that prairie darkness, bison and alligators sleep. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the sun of Christmas Day has risen. It sends its message back to us, the moon bearing witness and passing the story along: how the light persists, how it shines in the darkness, and is not overcome.

As we move toward Christmas morning, I offer a reprise of one of the videos that Gary and I collaborated on last year; An Illuminated Joy intertwines his music with some of my images from a series called The Advent Hours. I invite you also to visit another video collaboration, Contemplating Christmas, and pray it will offer you some quietly festive moments this day.

Wherever you are, whatever your Christmas holds, I wish you a most blessed day, and may Christ our Light go with you. Peace to you, and Merry Christmas!

[For previous reflections for Christmas Day, see this post. For a reflection on the days after Christmas—or, rather, the days of Christmas, since Christmas is a twelve-day festival—please visit this post, which includes thoughts and artwork for this year’s gospel lection for Advent 1.]

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day: The Advent Spiral

December 19, 2010

Now on our fourth turn through Advent, we have accumulated a bit of a library of images and reflections for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. As we anticipate the coming celebrations, here are some blogs from Christmas past. Click on the image or title to page your way through them.

Reflections and images for Christmas Eve:

Christmas Eve: Longing for Light

Door 24: The Secret Room

Where the Foreign Meets the Familiar

Reflections and images for Christmas Day:

Christmas Day: Witness of that Light

Tangled Up in You

Door 25: The Book of Beginnings

P.S. A Little Holiday Housekeeping: For those just tuning in: through Christmas, we’re offering a discount on annual subscriptions at Jan Richardson Images, where my artwork is available for use in worship, education, and contemplation. A subscription provides access to all the images for a year’s time. Click subscribe for info. Also, there’s still a wee bit of time to order my new book for Christmas. (Or perhaps Epiphany!) Visit Sanctuary of Women to order. Inscribed copies are available by request.

Christmas Day: Witness of that Light

December 23, 2009

Witness of that Light © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Christmas Day, Years ABC: John 1.1-14

On Christmas Eve during my first year as a pastor (at a church just up the road from Disney World), I stepped into my office during a quick break between the six worship services we were having that evening. I spotted a gift that my senior pastor, Bill Barnes, had left for me. Opening it, I discovered an illuminated edition of The Book of Common Prayer. Containing an early version of the BCP, the volume includes nearly two hundred miniatures taken from a variety of illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. The book enchanted me and remains one of the coolest gifts I have ever received.

I picked the book up tonight and was enchanted all over again, partly for the memories it evoked, partly for the doorways of history and imagination it opened to me as an artist, and partly for the book itself, its intricate and vivid pages shimmering (even in reproduced form) with gold. It’s the presence of gold that qualifies a manuscript as “illuminated,” and many medieval book artists drenched their pages with this precious metal. Artists, and their patrons who commissioned these books, were drawn to gold both because of its lavish quality and also because it signified the presence of the God who not only gives us light but who also came into this world as light.

Light shimmers through the gospel reading that the lectionary gives us for Christmas Day: the stunning prologue to the gospel of John. Tonight I read the version contained in my luminous Book of Common Prayer—the King James Version, of course. In this passage that I love and have read approximately a zillion times, what struck me tonight, in this version, were these words:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all…through him might believe. He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light.

Most times when I read this passage, I’m focused on John the Evangelist’s powerful description of how Christ came as the Word: the Word that was with God, the Word that was God, the Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word that came as life and light. As a woman with a passion for the Word, and words, and the bonds between them, I never cease to be stunned by the power of this poetic passage and what—and how—it tells us of the One who entwined himself with us as life and flesh and light. Yet tonight, amidst the stunning words about the Word, my eye keeps going back to John—the one whom we call the Baptist, the one who prepared the way—and how, as the King James Version puts it, he came “to bear witness of that light.”

We need darkness, and I often find myself uncomfortable with the ways that we in the Christian tradition perpetuate stereotypes that hold that all that is good is light and bright and white, and all that is evil is dark and black. I’ll say it again: we need darkness. The seed in the ground, the child in the womb, the body and soul in rest and in dreaming: we must have times of shelter from the light in order to grow in the ways God calls us to grow. I love that verse in Isaiah where God says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name” (Isaiah 45.3).

And yet, even as it calls us to honor the gifts of the dark, this season bids us recognize our ancient longing for light, and to celebrate the One who came to us as light. Amidst the shadows—some necessary, some horrendous—God beckons us to look deeper, to look more closely, that we may find the presence of the Christ who shimmers there. And, finding that presence, to bear witness.

How do we, in our own lives, do what John the Baptist was called to do in and with his life? How do we bear witness of that light?

As we cross the threshold into Christmas, here at the end of our Advent pilgrimage, this is a question I’ll be carrying with me, tucked in the traveling bag where all my mysteries go. In the days, weeks, months to come, how will I bear witness to, point toward, open myself to, embody the God who came as life and as light? Are there any shadows that I’ve grown too comfortable with, any places of darkness that God might be wanting to stir around in and shed some light on? Are there any pockets of ignorance or indifference within me that God might be desiring to illuminate? Is there some dark corner of my soul that I’ve been content to leave in shadow, in mystery, where God might be inviting me to kindle even a small flame and wait in stillness to see what reveals itself?

How about you? What question will you carry on the path ahead? What light beckons you as we spiral into the coming season?

Wherever your path takes you, may this Christmas be for you and yours a day of celebration, a day of hope, a day of peace. A luminous day. I am grateful to you for sharing this Advent journey, and I welcome you to join me at The Painted Prayerbook, where I’ll soon return to explore some words and images in the year to come.

May Christ our Light go with you in every season. Merry Christmas!

CHRISTMAS BONUS: To hear a wondrous song from my singer/songwriter sweetheart, inspired by the prologue to John’s gospel, click this link: Garrison Doles-“From the Beginning” (from Garrison’s CD House of Prayer).

[For previous reflections on this passage, please see Tangled Up in You and Door 25: The Book of Beginnings.]

[To use the “Witness of that Light” image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

Tangled Up in You

December 25, 2008

Tangled Up in You © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Christmas Day: John 1.1-14

Of all the artful treasures passed down in the Christian tradition, some of the most amazing are the early medieval Gospel books from Ireland and its neighbors. The Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Gospels of St. Chad: fashioned by monks living in such places as Iona and Lindisfarne between the seventh and tenth centuries, these and other Gospel books offer a remarkable testament to the power of the Word to inspire devotion and beauty. Monks undertook the creation of these books as an act of prayer, lavishing their artful attention on the pages over the course of months and years. They drenched the pages with colors derived from the things of the earth: flowers and seeds and leaves, precious stones and minerals, even inks made from insects.

A distinctive feature of the Celtic Gospel books is the intricate knotwork that adorns the pages. Serving not merely as decoration, the knotwork connects the words and images so intricately that the boundary between them breaks down: words become images become words. All manner of forms and symbols twist through and among the knots, telling their own stories: animals and angels, crosses, chalices brimming with vines, and human figures including Christ, Mary, and the four evangelists. Some of the knotwork marries the silly with the sublime. Mice play tug-of-war with a Communion wafer, cats bound from page to page, intertwined men tug at one another’s beards. And everywhere there are books, reminding the viewer not only of the power of the Gospel but also of the enduring presence of the Word who took flesh and became incarnate in this world, a living Word for all to read.

The most ornate pages of these Gospel books are labyrinths that beckon readers to enter the mysteries of this Word, to lose themselves and find themselves again within the twisting pathways of the Gospel story. These volumes not only stand as a stunning sacrifice of skill and devotion; they also offer a way of approaching the Gospel story. With their intricate and intimate interplay of words and images, the Gospel books proclaim the story of the God who came to become entangled with us. Page by page, knot by knot, they tell the good news of the God who desires to be thoroughly intertwined with us.

The intricacy of these books testifies to the complexities of the Gospel story. With roots that twist deep into the Hebrew scriptures, the Gospel texts have layers of meaning that we can hardly begin to understand if we have not studied the texts that came before them. Symbols, stories, patterns of God’s relationship with God’s people, the ancient hopes and struggles and journeys that the people of God have undertaken: all of the tales and literary traditions that the Gospel writers inherited helped to inspire and inform the stories that they told. The Celtic Gospel books acknowledge this, intertwining pre-Christian imagery and allusions with symbolism drawn from the New Testament. The very design of these books serves to confound our assumptions that we entirely understand what their Gospel texts contain. With their complicated pathways, intricate knots, and dizzying spirals, these books remind us that the Christian life is an ongoing journey of initiation, and one that only grows more mysterious and complex the deeper we go.

For all its complexities, however, at times the Gospel story stuns us with its simplicity. It startles us with the clarity by which it reflects and speaks to our ancient human yearnings and fears and hopes. So it is with the story we hear on this day. In a dark time, John tells us in his gospel, God came to us. God put on flesh and was born among us. And this God is life. And this God is light. For all people.

And the light shines in the darkness.

And the darkness did not overcome it.

God came to get tangled up with us, to become entwined with us, to be knitted and knotted into our lives. The knots are not always tidy. I can admire the wondrous and beautiful patterns that the Celtic artists accomplished, but the patterns and entanglements of my own life, and my own art, tend to be far less orderly. Yet amid the complexities and complications and conundrums that life offers us, God twists and turns, walking the labyrinth with us and helping us find our way through.

On this Christmas Day, where do you find yourself on the twisting path? How do you experience the God who desires to be intertwined among all the elements of your life? Are there any tangles that could do with some attention? How might it be to invite God into those? If you were to paint or draw or collage the pattern of your life right now, what would it look like? What story, what good news, does that pattern contain and proclaim?

On this and all days, may you know the presence of the God who came to us and who goes with us still, entangling us and entwining us. I am grateful to you for sharing this Advent path, and I invite you to continue to journey with me as I return to The Painted Prayerbook, exploring the intertwining of words and images in the year to come. Blessings and deep blessings to you. Merry Christmas!

[For last year’s reflection on this passage, visit Door 25: The Book of Beginnings.]

[To use the “Tangled Up in You” image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

Visit ◊The Advent Door◊ home.

Where I’m From

December 7, 2008

Where I’m From © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 3: John 1.6-8, 19-28

If you’re experiencing a bit of déjà vu in reading next Sunday’s gospel lesson, it’s understandable. This passage from John circles us back around some of the textual territory that we visited in the gospel reading for Advent 2. John approaches his subject in a different fashion than does Mark, but, as in Mark, John the baptizer makes an early appearance in the gospel. Once again we hear words about making a way in the wilderness. Yet where Mark, along with Matthew and Luke, borrows those way-making words from Isaiah and editorially applies them to John the Baptist, using his authority as a narrator to make clear that the Baptist is the one of whom Isaiah was speaking, John takes an intriguing turn in his gospel.

In John the evangelist’s version of the story, the priests and Levites approach the baptizer, asking him, “Who are you?” He begins by saying who he is not: “I am not the Messiah.” They persist. “What then? Are you Elijah?” John emphasizes he is not Elijah, nor is he the anticipated prophet. They ask him again, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” In his own voice, John responds,

I am the voice of one crying out
in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’
as the prophet Isaiah said.

Where the other gospel writers linked the Isaiah passage with the story of John as an editorial comment, John the evangelist places Isaiah’s ancient words on the baptizer’s own lips. His narrative choice imbues the baptizer with a deep clarity about his role in the story of the Messiah. Though not the promised prophet for whom the people had long waited, John the Baptist’s claiming of Isaiah’s words to describe himself places him firmly in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets. He knows he comes from Elizabeth and from Zechariah, but with his answer he places himself in the lineage of those for whom the wilderness, both literal and metaphorical, was their home, their place of formation as messengers of God. John’s response to his questioners is not only a way of saying who he is, but also where—and whom—he has come from.

In pondering John’s clarity about where he has come from, and how this informs his understanding of what God has formed and fashioned him to do, I’ve found myself thinking about a poem that recently circled my way. Written by Appalachian poet George Ella Lyon, “Where I’m From” offers a litany of the places and people, the artifacts and experiences that hold the poet’s roots. “I am from clothespins,” she begins,

from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)

[Read the whole poem here.]

Lyon comments that the poem has traveled widely, circulating as a writing prompt. “People have used it at their family reunions,” she writes, “teachers have used it with kids all over the United States, in Ecuador and China; they have taken it to girls in juvenile detention, to men in prison for life, and to refugees in a camp in the Sudan. Its life beyond my notebook is a testimony to the power of poetry, of roots, and of teachers.”

In our mobile society, it’s sometimes hard to say where we’re from, hard to name the roots that hold us as more and more of us live at a distance from the places (which may have been many) and people we grew up with. And yet Lyon’s poem reminds us that roots happen in a variety of ways, sometimes but not always tied to one particular place. Our increasing physical rootlessness is perhaps itself a kind of wilderness, akin to what John the Baptist experienced—but the wilderness, as John knew, is a place to be from, too.

So on this Advent evening, inspired by the baptizer and by an Appalachian poet, I’ve been thinking about where I’m from, and what direction my roots are turning me toward.

Where I’m From

I am from orange groves
and old Florida,
from a house my parents built
in a field my grandfather gave them.
Black-eyed Susans grew there in the spring,
so thick we played hide and seek
simply by kneeling among them.

I am from a town
with more cows than people,
from Judy and from Joe,
from generations that have grown up
in one place.

I am from peanut butter and
honey sandwiches every morning,
from my grandmothers’ kitchens,
from Thanksgiving feasts in the
community park,
from Christmas Eves in the
white painted church
among the pine trees.

I am from the dictionary we kept
by the dinner table
where we ate words like food,
from hours and days in libraries,
from miles of books.
I am from the path they have made.

I am from solitude and silence,
from the monks and mystics who lived
between the choir and the cell,
from the scribes bent over their books,
from parchment and paint,
from ancient ink and from gold
that turned pages into lamps,
into light.

I am from women less quiet,
women of the shout and the stomp,
testifying wherever they could make
their voices heard.
I am from Miriam and Mary and Magdalena
and from women unknown and unnamed,
women who carried their prayers
not in books
but in their blood
and in their bones,
women who passed down the sacred stories
from body to body.

I am from them,
listening for their voices,
aching to hear,
to tell, to cry out,
to make a way for those
yet to come.

So where are you from? What are the places, the people, the experiences that formed your path? What holds your roots? How does where you’re from help you understand who you are? How does it enable you to make a way for the one who comes in this and every season?

Wherever you’re from, wherever you’re going, peace to you as you continue to find and fashion your path. Blessings.

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