Why is John so unpopular? Could it be his appearance?
John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
Could it be his message?
He was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Every Advent our Gospel readings center on this strange, austere, humorless character John the Baptist. The John of the Gospel is no one’s idea of Christmas joy: subsisting on locusts and wild honey, clad in camel hair, haunting a wild river bank. We happily take on the role of St. Nick, but no way do we see ourselves as John the Baptist. He has become a non figure in our rush to Christmas.
The larger culture has forgotten him entirely and if it were not for churches and our readings on these Sundays in Advent, we would forget him entirely. It is no surprise that you can’t buy John the Baptist figurines; now if he could help sell a house or save a job, maybe, but not now… And in one sense, I don’t think John would mind that at all, let me explain.
I grew up loving (and playing) football, I bet that surprises you…
-played it throughout High School
-played TE, usually the last player on the line
The 6 or so guys who play this offensive line have 1 major role, to block. To make the path, the holes for the running back, to make sure no one sacks the QB. Who gets the glory? The running back or QB. Whose name is in the paper, whose jersey is worn by kids? The running back or QB. But each week, those blockers get out there and make a path so the running back can do his job. They prepare the way, and even as their names are unknown or forgotten, they have done their job if that running back (or QB) is remembered and celebrated for his runs and scores.
So too, John the Baptist. He is known as the forerunner. The one who was preparing the way for Jesus by what he did. He was not looking to make a name for himself. Now, all the Gospels do remember him. They remember the crowds who came to John seeking that forgiveness, seeking his baptism. And after John, those crowds, those people went to see Jesus, some even became his followers, his disciples.
But it was John the Baptist, who first cried out in that wild wilderness for all to see a new reality, where all flesh, everyone, shall see the salvation of God. John felt that the reality that God wanted, the will of God, was not being done. He challenged everyone to be baptized to free them from that sin, from that reality that was not God-filled. Prophets, as messengers from God, help us to see a new reality, God's reality, but to accept this we must repent of our sins and prepare the way for our salvation by trying to live in God’s reality. And like the prophet Isaiah who cried out, Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. John is aware of his role as the one in the wilderness crying out to prepare the way of the Lord.
“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
So why should we remember him? Why is he important? We need John the Baptist because he helps us prepare for Christ’s coming into the world. Its true that we truly can’t journey to Easter, without first going through the cross of Good Friday. It is equally true that we cannot make our journey to the manger at Christmas without going through the wilderness and coming face to face with the message of John the Baptist in Advent.
The season of Advent is there to help us truly prepare for Christmas, to hear, John the Baptist calling us to repent, to not gorge ourselves in a Christmas that began weeks ago that is all centered on shopping and stuff. John calls us to live more than the gluttonous onslaught to buy happiness; it is the journey we make to Christmas, all the steps, all the preparations that will make Christmas into the joyful event we want it to be. Full of hope and peace, full of joy and anticipation, where life is ready to repent and to forgive, where life is ready and eager to meet Christ again this Christmas.
And it is John the Baptist that is exactly who Advent calls us to be. In our own baptisms we promised to become Baptizers along our own Jordan Rivers. So let’s take on the work of the “Baptizer” this Christmas; let’s become heralds like John as we go about our holiday preparations: May we give the gifts of “comfort” and joy . . . may every kindness and generosity we extend this Christmas mirror Christ’s presence in our midst . . . may we joyfully take on the hard work of creating a highway through the rugged lands of estrangement and alienation . . . may the gifts and greetings and hospitality we extend proclaim the good news that God’s compassion has dawned that a new reality, God’s reality awaits us, if we are ready. [Connections]
Advent reminds us of our higher calling, of our connection to one another and our need to repent and live in ways that are in harmony with our God, for our salvation is drawing near. Amen.