“To live in hope is to adopt a basic stance or direction, like iron filings in a magnetic field. It is to be drawn to something beyond the immediate concerns of everyday, to look to the horizon and to see more than a limit on our vision, and our own possibilities. In short, it is to be oriented to the future, understood as a gift with God, with new divinely imagined possibilities, not just then outcome of events and actions in the the past and present. To live in hope is to live in the energy field of the future.” — Christiaan Mostert
On Friday morning I took MrE out for POPS. It is cold, and so we bundled up. Over the past few weeks I have often made him wear a stocking cap, but today I put one on too. And Ezekiel was thrilled. He kept touching our heads and saying “hat”. When we stopped at Hammerhand for coffee and cinnamon rolls, I took my hat off – he immediately took his off. As we left, now a little sweeter, he automatically pointed to our head, “hat”. So we put on our hats.
“And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” — Luke 1:17
In Luke the angel introduces John the Baptist with an OT prophecy from Malachi 4. Much of John’s tasks to “go before” and “make ready” are general: in the way of Elijah1 John will move the people to righteousness. But the prophecy includes one specific task: John will “turn the hearts of the parents to their children.”
My first reading of “turn the hearts of the parents to their children” left me pondering parents loving their kids. But every generation – even one far removed from us – loves their children. So it is hard to imagine that was John’s specific task. Hard to imagine that could prepare the way for Jesus.
Interestingly the book of Malachi includes the reverse, “turn the hearts of children to their parents” (4:6), but the angel drops that part. Gabriel’s prophecy for John turns only toward the future generation, not the past.
To prepare the way for Jesus meant John was preparing the way for a major shift. The Jewish traditions, worship, even the definition of the people of God was about to change. Their religion was based on lineage — they were children of the patriarchs. They acted out the faith of their parents. But the people of God would no longer be defined by previous generations. The hearts of parents needed to turn to find the new reality; one not based in the past, but in the future.
In this way the people of God would be led forward not by their past, but by relationship with God (first by Jesus, now guided by the Spirit). Their ministry would not be acting out traditions or the law, instead following the way of Jesus. It is a way of sacrifice and love — the goal is expanding salvation. This is why their heart must turn, away from protecting their past, toward those who do not know the love of God.
This message of John, “turn your hearts”, is true not only for that generation. Each new generation has a way of seeing the world. It is easy to stumble and believe my era is the culmination. That our way of doing things – traditions, practices, theologies, world views – are the best. When we believe we have arrived, it is easy to let go of our commission. Then our hearts turn toward the past. We focus on maintaining our ways, protecting our ways, rather than saving the next generation. And in this we stumble and miss the way prepared by John – the way of Jesus.
I love my son Ezekiel. For a moment he wants to be like me. Beyond that stocking caps need a ball and coffee deserves cinnamon rolls, I desire to teach him to never remain. The world we live in is rapidly changing. Issues I had not pondered are upon us and past us. It is tempting to try to stop everything. To protect. To go backwards. But this world is not our home. Our hope is in the future.
So I turn my heart toward salvation. Not mine alone, I turn toward the salvation of the next generation. And not just for my children, because all of the world is a lost child of God. A heart turned toward salvation realizes the issues of today are often just blinders preventing us from sharing the love of Jesus.
So like John, I prepare the way for Jesus. My heart turns towards other’s future and my hope is all will receive salvation… only the love of Jesus will bring us there.
1 — John and Elijah did share some specifics: weird eating habits — Elijah was fed by ravens, John ate locusts and honey; both directly challenged Kings — John beheaded, Elijah chased. But I do not think John was in the habit of chopping up his enemies… Elijah and up prophets of Baal