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Advent day 21: The water that sustains in the wilderness

12.23. 2017 Posted By: The Mennonite 281 Times read

Katherine Jameson Pitts is Executive Conference Minister for the Pacific Northwest Mennonite  Conference. She has pastored congregations in Kansas, Pennsylvania and California and now resides in Portland, Oregon. She and her husband, Ken, have three adult daughters and a granddaughter.

Two days until Christmas. Pastors and musicians are putting the final touches on tomorrow’s services. Children’s excitement is peaking. If you have shopping to do, today may be your last chance. And our reading for today (John 7:40-52) tells us that “the people were divided.” (v. 43 NLV)

It was the Feast of Tabernacles, a celebration of God’s care for the people when they wandered in the wilderness. This is a time of thanksgiving and a recognition of God’s abundant gifts. A crowd gathers at the temple where Jesus is teaching. And all that he says causes the crowds to wonder, “Who is this man?” and the authorities to ask, “What should we do with him?”

Was Jesus the Messiah? The prophet? From Galilee? From Bethlehem? And what should happen to him? Should they arrest him? Give him a fair trial? Kill him? Believe in him?

The surging crowd, the arguing, the cursing of those who disagree–these are familiar scenes to us. “Fake news!” the Pharisees cry.

We know what it means to live among people who are divided. We know what it is to be a people who are divided.

Where Jesus comes from is an important question in the Gospel of John. But, despite the argument among the leaders, the question here is not really whether he is from Galilee or from Bethlehem. Unlike Matthew and Luke, who tell the story of a humble birth in Bethlehem, John places Jesus’ origin not on earth, but in the heart of God. It is unclear if John knew of the Bethlehem birth stories. He did know deeply where Jesus came from. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (John 1:1, 14) Believe in him, John says, not because of where he was born, but because he is now here. He is here as God with us. Believe in him because he is the gift of God’s abundant love to all the world. He is the One who will care for us as we walk through the wilderness.

What exactly had Jesus said that was so upsetting to those who heard him that day? Jesus said,

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,
and let the one who believes in me drink.
As the Scripture has said,
‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)

Jesus is both prophet and Messiah, and the one who provides water in the desert. When we are thirsty and when we are broken, even when we are divided, Jesus invites us to come to him. Come to find the life-giving water we need to go on. Come to be refreshed.

The Greek word, κοιλιάς, that is translated “ heart” here is translated in other places as “innermost being,” “belly,” and even “womb.” As Mary’s womb fills with the growing Christ child, we are invited to let the empty places of our being, even of our bodies, be filled with the water that sustains in the wilderness. We are invited to let the Spirit move in the empty places within us where creation can happen and grow, filling us and overflowing to those around us.

Sometimes we only need to see that there is an emptiness and invite God into it. Other times we must actively make space for God in our cluttered lives. But always, God’s Spirit is waiting. God’s gift of abundant love is there. And living water will be poured out for us and through us.

Who is Jesus? What should we do with him? These were the questions of the crowd and of the leaders. And they are questions for us to ponder today as we wait just a few more days to celebrate the coming of the baby in Bethlehem and of the Word into our world. In these days may we nurture in our inmost being, in our wombs, the living water Jesus gives, so that God’s healing and hope might be born in us and flow through us to the world.

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