I found one!
The first lone crocus I saw this year was not in a forest clearing but in the middle of a construction zone. At the end of every winter I go out looking for signs of life. I have a lot of photos of crocus flowers in my stash because they give me such hope. When I was a child I picked bunches of them to bring inside, but they soon flopped over the side of the jam jar. A wild crocus is not easily domesticated; it is meant to be out in the dead cold field poking its optimistic head through patches of snow. It is a forerunner of better things to come.
I was thinking about forerunners the other day, those people who can see what is coming next before anyone else does. Hawk-eyes, scouts, prophets, innovators, preparers-of-the-way. In the art world Van Gogh was one of these. In his lifetime he never sold a painting, never received recognition, never found a place where he “fit.” That boy was “different.” It wasn’t until many years later his paintings sold for millions. Forerunners don’t run to be popular.
John the Baptist was a forerunner. He was also “different.” He didn’t have a complete picture of the One who was to come, forerunners seldom do, but he knew with certainty in his heart that there was a change coming, and his assignment was to prepare hearts for change. Like a farmer who prepares the field for planting he set about tearing out obnoxious weeds that had been there so long folks had accepted their presence as part of the landscape. He preached the message of repentance. Repentance is not the same thing as penance, (trying to make up for wrongs done by some sort of demonstration of self-administered punishment or public humiliation, although, for some making public apologies and announcements of plans to repay what they stole may be an indication of their intent to change.) Repentance often involves grief, but primarily repentance (metanoia in Koine Greek) means change. Repentance is admitting our thinking has been off and coming into agreement with God that we have missed the mark he set (hamartia, the Greek word for sin means just that -missing the mark.) Repentance means having a better thought and adjusting our aim. Repentance means leaving the past behind and doing things differently.
The basic mission of forerunners like John is to poke a finger into embarrassingly sensitive, and often hidden, parts of our lives and ask the question, “And how’s that workin’ for ya?”
There are forerunners amongst us now, folks with an antsy sense that change is imminent, but who don’t know exactly what that change will look like. They go through life awkwardly, never really fitting in anywhere, annoying themselves and others with their inability to find contentment with accepted ideas and practices that don’t quite line up with both the Holy Spirit’s whisperings and with Scripture. They are not easily domesticated, and often pop up in places where dormancy is “normal.” They stand out because they are different and the light shines through them in colours we haven’t seen for a long time.
Yet somehow we are drawn to them. They are messengers of hope.