The baptizer’s bargain

A poem on John the Baptist

Such a tame name for a man
     born to inhabit the wild side
     of heaven’s incursion.
You startle children with
     your leather-girdled, camel-haired attire,
     hot breath bidding the devout
     into Jordan’s penitential wake,
     the same waters that marked
     the boundary of beneficence: of the Hebrew
     slaves’ long march from Pharaoh’s provision
          (the latter hard, to be sure, but also secure)
     to Providence of another, riskier kind,
     though laced with promise of milk and honey.
What drove you to this scorched abode,
     abounding in wild beasts, hostile foes
     and scarce sustenance?

The shape of your profile
     was cockeyed from conception:
     born to parents long since impotent and barren;
     your father stunned speechless by
     the angel’s approach;
     your future yoked with that of Elijah,
     ancient antagonist to royal deceit.
           (And you paid with your head.)
What was it in Mary’s voice that prompted
     your recoil in Elizabeth’s womb?
And why the abandonment of familial legacy
     in the choice of your name?
What incredulous politics is this that the
     Word of God would bypass
          lordly Tiberius and Pilate,
          princely Philip and Lysanias,
          priestly Annas and Caiaphas,
     to locate you, of honey-smeared beard,
     amid such remote and wayward landscape?

Spirit-drenched baptizer of repentant flesh,
     exposing shameful inheritance to the Advent
     of mercy and an anthem of praise.
Lonely minstrel of pledged Betrothal,
     announcing dawn’s infiltration
     of destiny’s dark corner,
     scattering death’s shadow with
     the footfalls of peace.
Witness to dove’s descent, reversing heaven’s
     flooding threat with lauded applause
     to Mary’s assent and Messiah’s demand
     for hills’ prostration and valleys’ upheaval.
Speak, John: Roar the Complaint against every
     crooked and cragged thoroughfare.
Should the elect resist, the stones themselves
     will produce heirs worthy of Abram’s fealty.
Echo the insistent Refrain: revive, return, repair.

Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

The baptizer’s bargain is this: Enter these
     waters at the risk of self-absorbed survival.
A certain drowning is needed for lungs to receive
     Breath From Above on wings of the dove.

Vipers, beware! The baptized prepare.

©Ken Sehested @ Advent 2006.
Right: Depiction of Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist – I Yesus Church – Axum (Aksum) – Ethiopia