Happy and Blessed Advent to everyone. The Gospel reading on December 10, 2017 reintroduces us to the compelling character of St. John the Baptist. In hindsight, there are clear reasons why John merits reverence in the Church: he shares kinship with Our Lord, he prophesies accurately the coming of the Messiah, and he baptizes countless people, changing their lives for the better anticipating the ministry of Jesus Christ. History bore this out, but even before this all became clear, he drew hundreds upon thousands of people from their homes to the banks of the river Jordan. What made him such an attraction?
“John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:4-5)
Even at that time, you didn’t get to see this kind of strange behavior every day. We can’t know the percentage, nor does it matter, but some people had to just be curious to see the Saint without being baptized.
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-10)
St. John harangued the big wigs of the time in public. Surely the poor and lowly enjoyed hearing of it and would have come to witness it for themselves. He was saying the things that they probably longed to say themselves but would never have dared to. Finally someone was telling the stuffed shirts off. It must have been swell.
“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same. Even tax collectors came to be baptized. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’ ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’ He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely-be content with your pay.” (Matthew 3:11-14)
John’s teachings of living a good life would have been comforting to people as well. He spoke with care to tax collectors and soldiers, two groups who were not revered among the Jews. It probably took a lot for them to come to John looking for spiritual comfort and he gave them hope.
Through almost 2000 years, many of these same ideas have drawn attention to political personages as well. In the election cycle of 2016, we had two voices in the wilderness who drew many followers for decrying the wealthy and powerful, ostensibly to help the downtrodden. Candidate Bernie Sanders ran on a campaign of having the “Rich pay their fair share,” and Donald Trump said he was going to, ”Drain the swamp.” Both of the candidates enjoyed immense popularity among their bases, and in addition, drew great media attention. Many other people in history have created a buzz like this, but none of them did what John the Baptist did, which truly set him apart.
“I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:26-27)
This Advent, remember that unlike politicians, John’s message and purpose was not to inflate himself. He prepared the way of the Lord. The kingdom of God was at hand and John was its herald. As we pray for the coming of Christ the King, let us avoid falling into the deceptions of the princes of the earth and remember to let the Gospels guide our lives. May we also prepare the way of Lord and announce his coming.
Copyright 2017 Mark Andrews