Something with which most every believer can struggle is the felt nearness of God: how close up do I sense the Divine presence? Put another way, what kinds of things convey to me that The Lord is near. Or following the mood of this Advent season, which ones tell me that The Lord is just ahead, just about to come?
If you asked this of our Advent Hero, John the Baptist, he’d maintain the signal for God’s coming would be the upheaval of the world – in his stark language, “the coming of wrath,” “the axe being put to the roots of the trees. Or in the words of one imaginative commentator, “The coming of the Messiah will bring a universal cleanup!”
So, we can understand John’s confusion when he hears reports of this wandering preacher, his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth. The Baptist sends a message, “Are you really the one who is to come? Or should we look for another?”
The answer Jesus gives amounts to telling John he’s not looking widely enough. “You should make other connections to God’s presence, things like the blind given back their sight, lame people up and walking again, deaf individuals beginning to hear and listen. But most especially, John, should you have an eye out for those poor and unnoticed ones, who mostly get bad news, but who now are now beginning to hear hopeful news, Good News. These off-to-the-side people are feeling more treasured because through me they are learning that God cares, that they are precious in my Father’s sight. And notice also that those following me are beginning to do likewise, to spread that Good News in word and deed.”
Jesus’ advice to John: “These are the other kinds of things besides calamity that give off the message that my Father is near, that God is walking the path right alongside you. ”
In the present day, Jesus is asking us to give off similar signals. By our actions of care and concern, we communicate that nearness of God. This is Jesus’ mission — by all the healing, comforting and challenging things he is doing, he is putting flesh on the claim that God is close by. And is that not also the mission of Jesus’ followers: to comfort and forgive and strengthen and seek out the lost and abandoned?
All of these actions and attitudes aim at the same result: bringing God into the here and now, changing our sense of God from a far off, hazy abstraction to a genuinely felt, up close presence.
In the end, Jesus proclaims that there is none greater than John the Baptist. But then going one further, He declares that the least ones in His Kingdom, His Father’s Kingdom, are greater than John.
Especially are all of us in Vincent’s Family those “greater-than” people whom Jesus names. We are challenged to carry the healing and strengthening presence of God to others. In responding to the Baptist, Jesus is singling out all those disciples through the ages who give flesh to His claim that God is close and nearby. We are the ones who, by our actions and attitudes give off the felt signals of God’s nearness in the everyday.
To this we can add Vincent’s distinctive angle on God’s drawing near.
“The practice of The Presence of God is very good, but I believe that the practice of doing God’s will in all things is even better; for the latter embraces the former. . (Volume: 11 | Page#: 287) Repetition of Prayer (Conformity to the Will of God), 17 October, 1655 added on 6/28/2011