John the Baptist is often thought of as this (sort of) crazy hermit who lived in the desert and wore camel-hair and ate locusts and wild honey, all the while preaching and telling anyone who would listen to prepare for “the one who is coming!” History tells us that actually his diet was common for poor people of his time. His clothing is reminiscent of Elijah which validates his role as a prophet. And while he may have gone off by himself to pray, he likely didn’t actually live in the desert. Gospel accounts confirm that he was not altogether social but somehow attracted significant numbers, who came to him for baptism. So John is an enigma. He wanted to prepare folks for a Messiah but he lived outside of the normal conventions and lacked social status. He was not necessarily part of the accepted religious community of his time and yet he still attracted followers.
So I’ve been wondering lately who the John the Baptist’s are in my world today? Who are the prophets in my life? From whom am I receiving the good news of Jesus coming? And who is urging me to prepare the way?
Much has happened in my own community in the last few months. The killing of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson, the grand jury’s decision and the subsequent riots and looting of businesses. Life has been lost. Property destroyed. Families and friends and neighborhoods divided. In my beloved Mexico, where I spend much of my time working, the country has been rocked by the devastating slaughter of 43 Mexican students. The students who disappeared in September are believed to have been turned over by a corrupt police force to a drug cartel who in turn killed them and burned their bodies. So much pain in a world already torn apart by hatred and injustice.
Where is my prophet? Where is my good news? How can I prepare the way for Jesus coming? Where is my messenger of hope?
I can’t undo the these tragedies but I can stop the violence in my own heart. And I can defuse the anger and hatred in my own life. Perhaps this year I will follow John the Baptist’s example. I suppose I’m not that different from John – I sometimes live outside of normal conventions, I lack social status and I am certainly not embraced by my church leaders.
But I can cry out in the desert!
I can pray for peace and justice! I can let go of my prejudices. I can remind others that Jesus is coming to save our world (again).
Won’t you join me?
There is hope amidst the shock and sadness we face. And as we journey through this Advent, maybe just maybe, together we can create some peace on earth. Let’s pray.
And prepare the way of the Lord!