The voice crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord! Matthew 3:3
I just love John the Baptist - he’s my favorite person in the Bible, really. I love how wild he is. And I love how wildly focused he is on ONE thing - God. I love how every picture you see painted of John depicts him pointing away from himself and toward God. He is even quoted in the bible as saying “He must increase, I must decrease.” John reminds us that there is something more important even than ourselves and our own needs. He reminds us not to worry so much about getting all our own ducks in line, but instead to prepare the way for God’s ducks in whatever way God wants them to be lined up. God always comes first with John the Baptist. God always knows best.
This humble and obedient orientation in our consumer driven culture is wildly counter-cultural. But, then, John was wildly counter cultural back in his own day, too. People would go miles into the desert just to see the crazy baptizer and to hear his fiery preaching. He was different than what they’d ever heard before. And even though they were rewarded for their long walk by being called a “brood of vipers” and being warned about potentially burning like chaff in an unquenchable fire, many nonetheless felt moved by John's message, and felt called to be baptized in the Jordan by John. They heeded his advice to surrender their self centered ways in order to put God more front and center in their lives, and to work for God's justice in the world.
There is no better time to look to John as a role model. As a person who put God first, John wanted God’s light to shine through him instead of shining any lights of his own making. His humility and his obedience to God would be a fine correctives to many of the problems of our self centered times. But the truth is that his humility and his obedience are not exactly as attractive in these self centered times. John, and all the prophets before and since, are always more like voices crying out in the wilderness - than like the voice of the mainstream. While they proclaim messages we really need to hear, they are not always the messages we want to hear. Therefore, prophets have always been heard by only a few - and are more often ignored or written off by many.
Jesus called John the greatest prophet who ever lived. I think that is because every spiritual discipline must begin on the bedrock of humility and obedience to God, as uncomfortable as those qualities may sometimes seem. But without them, true love, hope, compassion and peace will be hard to come by in any deeply meaningful way. We must decrease. God must increase - in us, between us and among us.
These days, the entire world is literally at our fingertips through our cell phone screens. We can create our own personas and purchase whatever we desire to be delivered by tomorrow with just the point of our finger. Advent is the perfect time to consider the call of John the Baptist, and like him, turn our fingers and our focus away from ourselves and what we want, and toward the needs of others and the kingdom of God. This is the way to prepare the way for God to enter into our lives as they are and into this world as it is - to prepare to let go of those attitudes and beliefs that do not serve us or anyone else - and to prepare to receive Christ's love and presence more deeply than last year, so that through us, Christ's love may be born anew into the world.
Prepare the way of the Lord!