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Maybe we’ve missed something

By Charles Qualls

A fascinating thing happened the other day. An article released an interview with a now-retired 82 year old cardiologist in Iowa. You might wonder what could possibly be interesting about an interview with a retired doctor from a small state in the Mid-West? What could his career have held, such that a leading medical publication would tell his story?

It is that he lends a unique, firsthand viewpoint to one of the most fascinating and awful occurrences in U.S. history, and he’s never told his story until now. Dr. Joe Goldstrich was the most junior of the medical personnel who was in Trauma Room 1 on Nov. 22, 1963, at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. He was a fourth-year medical student at the time, doing a rotation in neurosurgery. He was on call, assisting at the hospital that day, prepared to do one specific procedure if anyone came in requiring that.

His brief interview is compelling, and his firsthand point of view unique, especially this many decades later. He is one more set of eyes through which we get to view the events of that day. He helped to attend to the treatment of the assassinated President Kennedy.

Being sure we’ve looked at the right viewpoints is the only way to understand a story we weren’t there for. Right? When any preacher enters a narrative, an important choice has to be made: Through whose eyes are you going to enter the story? Because you can’t see it through them all. You have to pick one. Last Sunday, in Mark 1:1-8, we had just such a dilemma.

Jesus came to where John the Baptizer was, out in the wilderness. John was drawing a big crowd. He was doing something curious, magnetic even. Here was the message. “Repent. Turn to God for the forgiveness of your sins. Because the kingdom of God has come near.”

This is not the complete message. It’s nothing for us to get hung up on. But it is an important part of the message of Christmas.

What did they have to repent of? Well, if you want to hold John the Baptist safely at arm’s length, you simply think of other people’s sins. Just think of all the things you think are reprehensible that other people do, and you bet that’s what they needed to get out there and repent of. If you want to cozy up next to this thing, if you want this to be relevant to you, then you dig down into your own soul.

You think of the ways in which we participate in systems and movements that are unjust, prejudiced and unfairly biased. That’s sin. The damage we do to others. That’s sin. The actions toward others we wish we could take back. Words that we say in a careless, thoughtless moment, and they cause permanent hurt. The times we have been selfish, with no regard for loving others. Things that make our lives easier, but that take advantage of someone else. Moments when we are our own little gods, forsaking Yahweh God. So, it’s healthy for us to focus on what John was calling them out there to receive.

But, what if maybe we’ve missed something. What if we’ve been too focused on John and his message? What if we’ve even looked at the lives of a sinful, repentant people who flocked out there and got something? Instead, perhaps this crazy year of 2020 calls us to look at what they may have hauled out into the wilderness with them, so that they could leave it behind.

What if they were carrying the baggage of their own pain? What if they were looking for hope, and carried the weight of their own captivity or exile out into the desert? In fact, what if they were already living in a figurative wilderness because of a generational hopelessness at their plight? Perhaps in 2020, in some way, you feel as though you are, too. Maybe disease, upheaval, division and the like have taken their toll on your spirit.

If ever there were a year when collectively we might feel like we have done nothing but wander around in the wilderness, this might be the year. This Advent, we give ourselves a reminder of peace. We might search for the release we can find in the One who has come to save us. But also to free us. What weighs you down that you might give over to God and try your best never to haul it back home with you?

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.