The American public has just witnessed success and failure played out in our national, state and local elections. Now, in this time before Christmas, Christians celebrating Advent are given John the Baptist, the man and the message to consider. By today’s political standards, John, the man, was a failure – a loser. He was never first. His followers left him. He lost his life. He died not knowing whether what he said or did would bear fruit. Yet he stands out in the Gospel, and has lessons for us as no other.
John’s greatness can’t be measured by success or failure. It was his sense of perspective that made John a giant in the realm of faith. He knew he was part of a reality much bigger than he, and was open to the unknown. He had a critical role to play in preparing the way for Jesus, but he was not the whole drama.
This is our story, too. As we review our year as people are wont to do in December, we recognize elements of success and achievement – highlights for which we can be grateful. We also experienced down times, maybe even rejection and disappointment. In some ways, we have entered into the unknown. John encourages us to look at the bigger picture. Suppose that, taking our cue from him, we open ourselves to understanding who Jesus is and who we are in relationship to Him. Only then, our perspectives on truly important things can change.
John’s message to anyone who would listen is to personal conversion. By that, John doesn’t just mean to do things differently. In fact, he means to change our way of thinking and that’s much harder to do, isn’t it? Patterns of thought die hard. We are called to reform our thinking toward our relationship with God and the many people and problems in our contemporary world. Then we can act in new ways. It’s only when we dare to think outside our own personal box that we can help this world of ours move toward the reign of God. What can we do personally to reform ourselves first? That’s worth considering this week as we let John the Baptist influence us in our growth as people who share life and faith.
The paradox of John’s life could well be the paradox of our own: recognizing that as we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we really don’t end up being less in the process.
Going back to last week, the first week in Advent, I hoped that each of us could practice cherishing people as God cherishes us: people who are strangers, people who revolt us, people upon whom we would cast a judgment if we dared. In case you haven’t had a chance to make a list for every day of this week, here are some to consider:
Dec.5 guests and volunteers in our area soup kitchens and shelters
Dec. 6 firefighters, the deceased and dispossessed as a result of natural
disasters in Tennessee and Alabama and other places in the South
Dec. 7 military veterans from countries around the world
Dec. 8 expectant mothers and fathers
Dec. 9 adversaries and those caught up in the fighting in Aleppo and Mosul
Dec. 10 blood donors and blood recipients
Dec. 11 victims of abuse and their abusers
~ Sister Joan Sobala