It would be very easy to slip through Advent without so much as a nod to John the Baptist. The other characters of the Advent season seem so much more appealing: generous Mary, tender Joseph, the searching shepherds and kings, the harried innkeeper. Isaiah and Jeremiah with their prophecies full of hope, glory, and enthusiasm. John, on the other hand, seems dour, reproachful, and distant. But he is the cousin of Jesus, loved by Jesus and ready to clear the way so that the Word may become the true inspiration of the people. What’s your take on John the Baptist? Do you like him? Value his way of pointing others to God?
John the Baptist is not a down-home sort of man. He isn’t easy to be with, nor is he easy to listen to. That isn’t to say that there is no tenderness in John. Rather, while Jesus radiates compassion and love, John has other gifts and ways to prepare others to turn toward God. His is the work of reconciliation not reproach, of walking away from self-centeredness toward the embrace of God.
Before we can embrace the eternal newness of God, we must recognize our tendency to self-serving ways. We need to recognize sinfulness in ourselves, and need to be drawn to seeking forgiveness and desiring reconciliation. These are powerful emotions and we need help in coming to grips with them. That is what John the Baptist provided before Jesus came into full view.
Look at it this way: Someone was John the Baptist for you, the hard teacher who led you to God in new and inspired ways. And you have been John the Baptist for others. We know this because at some time, in some way, we have stood or lived on the margins. We have been adrift. When we moved away from feeling no need for grace, when grace moved faith from our heads to our hearts, from intellectual realization to a relationship with Christ, it is because someone accompanied us – a stranger or a loved one in the spirit of John the Baptist. Our own John the Baptist has told us to prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas by getting rid of the bumps and holes in our life to make a straight path for our God.
At Christmas, even as we celebrate the coming of Jesus, we also celebrate our own homecoming to the Lord, to our own true self and to the Lord’s House.
John the Baptist, who seems so stern and serious, helps this to happen and brings us a certain joy. That joy, almost a giddiness, is the experience of the Israelites released from their captivity in Babylon ‘When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like people dreaming Then our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with rejoicing.”
Advent is intended to have a joy all of its own - the joy of anticipation, the joy of going along together, the joy of coming in from the margins and embracing Jesus, life, others, the Church which offers us Jesus in the first place. Don’t leave John the Baptist out of the mix!
-Sister Joan Sobala