Whoop, here it is, Advent again! The end of the calendar year, the start of the Church year, all the familiar characters. In our Sunday liturgies, we hear about endings, beginnings, signs and those who remind us to stay awake and prepare. In particular, our attention is called to John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. The one and same baby who leapt in his mother’s womb when he first perceived the nearness of the Lord.
There is so much that is unwritten about John, yet his presence sets examples for us that could shape a faith for a lifetime. We might skirt past the writings about him, but there are things that speak louder than the words. One of the items that scholars agree on is that the amount of people who were coming to see him would astound even modern day “concert goers”. There were crowds and crowds people from everywhere, city, country, long distances, short distances. He was quite literally the Rock Star of the time. Just like today, there were a substantial number of “gawkers”. Those were the people who just came to watch at a safe distance. There were the people who really wanted to listen to his teaching. Finally, there were those who were smitten by him and couldn’t wait to get into the water, repent and be made clean and new. Going to see the crazy guy down by the river was an entertainment event. Rich and poor came, old and young came, educated and uneducated came.
Therein lies the curiosity. What in the world was the attraction of this out of the box “nut” who yelled his teaching at the top of his lungs, stood in the river, wore weird clothes and ate strange stuff? Purpose, yes, purpose. Whatever people thought about John, it was obvious that he was more than clear about his purpose. He was laser focused, dedicated, unwavering, unyielding about what he was doing. Like the crazy Rock Star who stands on stage and plays with sweaty abandon for two or three hours, John clearly showed unbreakable purpose.
For the crowds that came just to see, it was perfectly clear that whatever was driving John, he was not going to waver or abandon his mission. It didn’t matter what people thought of him or that they laughed at him, called him names or declared him crazy. In the frenetic scene that followed him everywhere, he was agonizingly consistent. Repent, one is coming who will change the world. Even the King was mesmerized by his message and way of teaching and felt so threatened by his manner that it led to John’s death.
No matter whether you are attracted by John’s style or not, there is one thing that no one can deny about him. You have to pay attention to him! Even if it is to say that you think that guy is crazy and too extreme, you still have to pay attention to his presence. Maybe that’s a detail you missed. Maybe John is “crazy like a fox”. Whether people went to see him or not, agreed with him or not, wanted to be baptized or not, they were thinking about, commenting about or wondering about his message. Really no different than some of our notables today—Kanye, Kardashians, Trump.
The message John delivered, though, went far beyond Pop Culture and entertainment. People came and commented because something that was inexplicable stirred their soul, the promise of renewal and forgiveness. When people watch you, hear you, are in your presence—what message do they get? Is it consistent and unshakeable? Does it stir their curiosity? If someone just met you, would they call you a person of faith? None of us is John. He was unique in the history of the world. Each of us, however, has a “fan base” of faith community, work, family, home, casual acquaintances. When people leave you, what message do they take? When people left John, there was simply no question of what people took with them. Sometimes they were unsettled. As believers, we hope to leave “traces” of our faith behind. Recently I have come to know a person who is still uncertain of who I am and often tells me: “You make me nervous.” Y’know, I think I’m good with that!
©2016, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved