My painting of John the Baptist is the cover of this week’s parish bulletin. Below is also my column for this Sunday. Read the bulletin by clicking the link. I also included today’s gospel.
Dear Believers in the Merciful Christ,
I am often criticized for preaching about people’s needs, especially people who have minimal financial resources. I do so realizing that we all need God. In fact, this season of Advent is designed for us to cultivate a desire for God. This need means growing in a true and lasting awareness that we require God in order to live, to breathe and to make honest decisions in our world. We need God in our pain, our grief and to see the real beauty of life itself.
Our prayer is not a pious notion that if we say the right prayers, God will love us. Our prayer is a radical posture of prayer, breaking open our hearts to lay bare the awesome nature of God’s forgiveness and kindness to form us into a people of peace and non-violence.
Advent cracks open our hardened attitudes and cranky opinions. When we take Advent seriously, we are exposed to God, who waits for us to finally come to the conclusion that we cannot live without his mercy, love and compassion. So often, the least among us, show us how faith really works. They show us how to need God.
Today’s gospel (Matthew 3:1-12) tells us of a person who shows us how to need God. This person is Jesus’ cousin, John. John the Baptist is my hero. Even in the womb, he recognized Jesus. He spent his entire life pointing to the direction of Jesus. In most depictions and paintings of John, he is pointing his finger to the direction of the coming of the Kingdom, to the direction of Jesus’ forgiveness and peace.
John steps out of the wilderness, smelly and hungry. His strong will and presence command attention from us. He emerges from the dust in order for us to find our true selves. I wonder if you have the courage to pray with him in Advent? I will warn you, he is very demanding of our hearts! I have often said that Hallmark Cards would certainly go out of business if they relied on images of John the Baptist preparing us for Christmas. John is earthy, focused, and brutally honest about his place in life. I wonder if you could capture such prayer and focus in your own life?
John is the master of calling us to repentance. Why would we do such a thing in Advent? We do so because we always need to come back to the reason why we need God in the first place. We need to shave away our shame, sort through our sin, and simmer down our selfishness. John shows us how to need God.
This is why I speak of people who need God. They show the rest of us, who are so burdened by many things and cannot admit it, how to need God. When we admit our own spiritual poverty, then we can help others in real poverty. John shows us the path to Jesus, our redemption. He shows us how to celebrate the real and loving person of Jesus with a full heart.
Gospel Mt 3:1-12
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
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