‘Does he have to be so ugly?’
The angel huffed. He was not enjoying this at all.
‘Ugly. Just look at him. Scraggly hair. Calloused skin. Clothes — can you call those clothes?– sodden and drippy from the river. His voice rasps; his hand shakes. His eyes are wild.’
‘Your ear serves you well, my friend; but your eye lets you down. Look again. Look for beauty.’
Jophiel took a deep breath and searched diligently across the valley.
‘There,’ he said at last, pointing. ‘The way the light falls on that piece of rock: blazing red, then falling into deepest purple. There is beauty. And over there: the way the sun shimmers on the sand so that earth and sky meet?’ Jophiel turned his head, and pointed in excitement, ‘and there: even there in those dead reeds. Do you see how the seed head clings on, and catches the light, and dances. That is beautiful.’
God smiled. He had to admit that Jophiel was good at this game. God nodded in agreement and gave Jophiel a moment to soak in the glory. And then he leaned into him, and pointed to the man below,
‘And there,’ God said. ‘That man is beautiful.’
Jophiel sulked a bit, then looked again.
A man: ugly and unkempt, mud-masked and smelly. Shouting endlessly of sin and repentance.
Jophiel shuddered and let his eye slip back to the river.
God was more stern this time: ‘Jophiel, LOOK.’
A man: caring nothing for convention, abandoning the temple, leaving behind all that was ordered and safe and understood to find freedom in the desert.
John picked up a locust. He admired the little creature, then popped it in his mouth. Jophiel looked horrified and began to protest.
A man: somewhat mad, but passionately committed. Undaunted. Unafraid. Able to see God in the harshness of the wilderness. Able to help others find God there too.
Jophiel watched as John strode into the river. His head sunk beneath the surface and then he sprang up sending water out like diamonds. John laughed and his face was radiant. He drew breath and cried out, ‘Repe-e-e-ent!’
Then at last, Jophiel saw it.
A man: crying in the wilderness. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’
Jophiel, too, was left breathless. He leaned into God and pointed, ‘There. That man. He is beautiful.’
‘Thank you.’ God said, smiling. ‘I did say…’
Jophiel laughed and pressed into God again, whispering:
‘But I still think he should cut his hair.’