I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about John the Baptist! While John the Baptist is regarded as a prophet in Christianity, Islam, the Bahái faith, and Mandaeism, I’m sure part of it has to do with one of the biblical readings for this second week of Advent, Matthew 3:1-12. On the other hand, what subconscious truth was trying to make it’s way to the surface of my mind?!?
Out of all the biblical characters, he’s definitely a Who’s Who. I’d even put him in the Who’s Who of Weirdos. Think about it: he lives an austere lifestyle in the wilderness, wears clothing of camel hair, and eats locusts (aka grasshoppers) and wild honey (probably scared the bees away himself). For even first century Palestine, even that was considered odd. He definitely had the prophet image going on. Then there was his message.
Prophets always walked a fine, usually a very unpopular, line. If their fringe-of-society behavior didn’t scare people, their message usually did. Prophets, by definition, were notorious for challenging the status quo, especially civil and religious leaders. Their message resonated with many who were disenfranchised or oppressed, but was also unnerving because it challenged their listeners to change. The leaders, who the prophet’s message was against, had a lot invested in keeping their poll numbers up. They certainly utilized all sorts of fear, half-truths, and threats to keep their constituents under their influence.
John’s message was one of baptism. The Jewish custom of baptism was a purification rite for repentant sinners. John was calling people out of their complacency and into relationship with God and each other. When the religious leaders came to be baptized, John openly challenged them and questioned their sincerity for repentance, or a changed heart. John wasn’t sure they were willing to turn from their rules and judgments toward others or confront the legalism they hid behind, exalting themselves, at the expense of others, before God.
John is included in the Advent story of Christmas because he was pointing and preparing the way for Jesus. Much later, when Jesus comes to be baptized by John, John recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and introduces Jesus to his disciples. All that is still to come.
What I’m stuck on right now is: (1) would I have been in the crowd as John was preaching his message of repentance, and (2) would I have taken his message to heart?
The longer I live, the more I’ve come to realize that God’s real messages to us come from the most unlikely of sources. And, unless I’m open and willing to hear, I will most likely miss the message. John wasn’t a religious scholar, trained theologian, or even regular looking guy. Yet, God used him to challenge the religious authorities of his day and call his listeners out of their complacency and into a relationship with One who could bring lasting hope and change to them.
If I can get past God’s message coming to me in the least likely of ways, what is God saying to me as I prepare for the coming Christmas?