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The Still Point: A Time of Meditation and Reflection
The Third Sunday of Advent
… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…
T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton
Peace on each one who comes in need;
Peace on each one who comes in joy.
Peace on each one who offers prayers;
Peace on each one who offers song.
Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,
Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One.
Praise and honor to you, living God for John the Baptist, and for all those voices crying in the wilderness
who prepare your way. May we listen when a prophet speaks your word, and obey. Amen.
The Gospel John 1:6-8,19-28
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Poem: “Well in Ruined Courtyard” by Adrienne Rich
Down this old well
what leaves have fallen
what cores of eaten apples,
what scraps of paper!
An old trash barrel.
November, no one comes.
But I come, trying
to breathe that word
into the well’s ear
which should make the leaves fly up
like a green jet
to clothe the naked tree,
the whole fruit leap to the bough,
the scraps like fleets of letters
sail up into my hands.
This week’s gospel passage tells the same story as last week’s, but with an entirely different tone. Whereas in Mark’s gospel the appearance of John the Baptist is abrupt, and his appearance outlandish, here in John’s gospel the pace is stately; the prophet is introduced as an exalted figure, and yet his nature and mission have an aspect of humility. He is not the light; he points beyond himself to the light. His message is the truth breaking into the world – in the person of the one who is already standing among us.
The poem, while it bears no outer resemblance to the gospel story, holds a piece of the same truth. The discarded scraps at the bottom of the dry well have no value, it seems, and yet the poet’s task is to breathe a word that reveals, revives, and restores. The poet bears witness to the hidden light.
Questions for Reflection
Which image of John the Baptist do you prefer, the wild man clothed in camel’s hair, who eats locusts and wild honey? Or the man sent from God to bear witness to the light?
Do you see any resemblance between the prophet’s task and the poet’s?
What image is most evocative for you, in the gospel or the poem? If you spend some time with that image, what insights does it offer?
We bring to God a troubled situation in our world
We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust
We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection
We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives
We name before God those who have died.
Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.
Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.
May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.