By: Louise Browner Blanchard, Rector
What a jarring way to begin the good news of Jesus Christ! John the Baptist is basically a savage – dressed in camel’s hair and living on locusts and honey and yelling at peo-ple to repent before he dunks them in the river Jordan in the middle of nowhere.
That does not sound persuasive to me.
And yet huge crowds were going to see him and to be baptized by him. Whether they were Jews or Romans or Samaritans or something else, there must have been something missing in their lives, something that would drive them into the wilderness to hear this crazy looking man and follow him into the river. Whoever they were, they hadn’t totally bought into the idea that the Roman emperor was divine, or that the ways of the elite Pharisees and Sadducees were the answer. In fact, many of the people who poured into the wilderness to hear John the Baptist were likely left out of, or abused by, the system that ruled their lives. Whatever answer John the Baptist was offering had at least the possibility of being better.
And what he essentially said to them was this: the answer begins with you. It does not lie in money or power. It is not found in civic or religious laws. Whether you have been abused by the system or benefited from it is irrelevant. The answer begins with you. With your repentance. In other words, with your ability and willingness to take a good hard look at your own life and the ways that you live it and the ways that you can change it. With your confession of your own sins and your resolution to do better.
And then you will be in a position to receive the good news of Jesus Christ.
Think about it. How can we forgive someone if we have not first experienced the grace of forgiveness? How can we believe in peace if we don’t recognize our own re-sponsibility in creating it? How can we love our enemies if we don’t admit our own role in creating or participating in that enmity? How can we love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind if we ourselves have not perceived God’s unconditional love?
The answer begins with us.
One of the reasons that I love Advent is because it helps us come to terms with that part of the equation – that the answer begins with us. It is, of course, a time when we prepare to celebrate the birth of a poor baby in a manger. A baby who grew up to be a man who proclaimed a message of peace and love for all people, which wound up getting him crucified, until God resurrected him and somehow saved the whole world. That is one hard story to believe if we don’t spend some time preparing for it.
So, in the midst of a time when discord seems to reign on so many fronts, when money and power seem to be the measure of our success, in this Advent season, we start by owning our own part in such craziness…and then step back and prepare for something else entirely. For peace on earth and goodwill towards all.
We listen to the stories that prepare us for the coming of Christ. We are remind-ed – strongly, urgently – to keep alert, to keep awake. We hear the story of John the Baptist not once but twice. And we hear about the angel who visited the unwed teenage Mary and told her that she would have a baby…and that she should not be afraid. Each of them reminds us that the ways of God are not the ways of the world.
This takes practice to believe. So, we turn our attention away from the noise and listen in the silence. Notice the hush that blanketed everything along with the snow. Look at the night sky and the brightness of the stars. Light the candles on an Advent wreath in a dark room and see how much slowly comes into focus.
We shift our focus to children, whose joy and wonder and acceptance teach us that truth often lies beyond facts and reason. We tend to the least of these, feeding the hungry and clothing the poor and recognizing that their vulnerability could well be ours. We look out for those who are lonely and old and sick and remember that we are all subject to heartbreak. We begin to realize that what soothes and heals and redeems the pain in this world is love.
And, God willing, by the time we get to Christmas, we understand, and we be-lieve. That we are searching for the same things that drove all those people into the wilderness 2,000 years ago. That God is patient rather than slow. That power begins in repentance and humility and resides in vulnerability and love. That truth rests in an-gels and stars and wild things. And babies. And, most of all, that the answer begins with us.