John the Baptist is always a central character during the second week of Advent. He is, in the words of Isaiah, “a voice calling out in the wilderness.” His message was simple and direct, even harsh. “Repent.” Change your mind, change your actions, change your life. Get ready for the one who baptizes not with water, but with Spirit. The town and city folk go out into the wilderness to hear his message.
On Sunday I suggested that the creaturely world – domesticated and wild – also speak to us in ways that teach wisdom and repentance. Starlings made a cameo at the end of the sermon because of their group behavior in a murmuration, flying together and tracking their closest neighbors’ directional patterns, resulting in beautiful aerial ballet. If you’ve never seen a murmuration (or even if you have), treat yourself to this four minute video It starts to get really interesting around 1:20 and keeps getting more dynamic after that. Apologies if you think Pachelbel’s Canon in D is overdone. You may need to watch it in full picture mode to get the image.
The flip side of starlings is that they are fairly invasive birds. They, like those of us with white skin, are nonnative to this land and came over from Europe, in the 19th century. One birding website reports that starlings “are aggressive when competing for nesting sites and readily drive out native species.”
Capable of dazzling and beautiful group behavior, and capable of displacing and usurping other life forms. Sound familiar? : )
What does repentance even look like for us? We need baptized not only with the physical source of life, water, but also with Spirit to guide us through these days.