2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall


On Jordan's Bank

On Jordan's bank the baptist's cry announces that the Lord is nigh...

Jordan's bank. The very name awakens memories, deep memories that offer us a profounder perspective on Advent. Jordan: the river that fed the green valley that Lot chose for himself. Jordan: the river that parted as the Red Sea had parted to let the wandering Hebrews enter their long awaited destination. Jordan: the river where Naaman the leper washed and was healed. Jordan: the river that flows from the ancient land through the heart of believers and pours into some of their most beloved hymns: "When I tread the verge of Jordan/bid my anxious fears subside." "I looked over Jordan and what did I see?/Com'in for to take me home./A band of angels coming after me./Com'in for to take me home." And now at Advent: "On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry/announces that the Lord is nigh."

Jordan's bank marks a boundary, a crossing point between two regions of existence, between wandering and home, between illness and health, between death and life, between promise and fulfillment. Jordan's bank is a place in the heart, a realm in the imagination, a state of being that anthropologists call "liminal," those times in our lives when we go through profound transition, leaving behind the familiar and established world that we have come to accept as the real world to enter what is a different reality.

To approach Jordan's bank is scary. If we pass through the waters, if we plunge beneath the wave, what will happen to us? Will we survive? When someone we love dies and we grieve, then we stand on Jordan's bank and tremble. When we take on some great new project in life, a change in our career, a cause for justice, then we stand on Jordan's bank and tremble. When we have an encounter with the Holy Spirit that unsettles our comfortable notions of what faith means and requires, then we stand on Jordan's bank and tremble.

And we would remain on Jordan's bank, unable to enter the water, unable to live through our grief or to meet the challenge of our new life or to grow into a greater knowledge of God, except that "the Lord is nigh." Christ is coming to meet us on Jordan's bank, to join us in our grief, our challenge, our growth. At the scariest moment, at the crossing point, in the liminal state, there we will meet Christ, who is coming, coming soon. Listen to the baptist's cry and get ready for the One who hastens to Jordan's bank. For at the precise juncture of your greatest fear and hope Christ will join you and will be with you when you plunge beneath the water and when you rise to new life.

Thomas H. Troeger Illiff School of Theology Denver, CO