December 8, 2019
Dear Caretakers of the Gospel,
John the Baptist’s voice cries out in high pitch in today’s gospel, Matthew 3:1-12. He shrieks across the desert and across our hearts to get our attention. He wants us to focus on his cousin, Jesus. In the desert he knows who the Messiah is and he desires that we all understand who he is as well. He points, yells, and stands firm that the one whom we all wait for is Jesus. The sand of the desert becomes firm ground on which to make his claim. The voice of the prophet Isaiah echoes in the heart of John and is heard even today in our hearts and lives.
John the Baptist in this Second Sunday of Advent struggles to get our attention. With his locust breath, he shouts out that salvation is not just about a prim and proper piety. Salvation for us is also not just a private or individualized faith. Salvation is a radical understanding that repentance is the way in which we will all become followers of the Messiah. John invigorates our search for the Christ in every nation and time. Justice becomes a home in which the Messiah will be made known.
John’s conviction echoes across our generations. His finger points to Christ and his heart knows that we must give up our apathy, intolerance, injustice and put our lives on the line to receive the Word-Made-Flesh. John baptizes with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and water.
There is warning here of fire and so often the blaze of conviction has grown dim in our time. Advent’s claim is for us to restore the conviction, the fire, the hope and the love that Christ Jesus offers us salvation. We need during the Advent season to stir the embers of justice, of peace and the radical conviction that God is involved in our lives.
We have diminished Advent into a rather wimpy and domestic understanding that we are waiting for a cozy Christmas. However, we need to listen to this adult John and the adult Jesus to discover our true vocation of our baptism and the conviction that Jesus offers us a truly different way of life. We must be able to take our cue from John that there is fruit to bear in the world on our part. This fruit is the conviction that God is present and that faith matters. Our needs will be met if we wake up to the destruction of violence, war, poverty and hunger. John views this desert as the birthplace of a new Garden of Eve. The desert will bloom with justice and hope when we receive him in our repentance for Jesus Christ will make all this whole and rich, all things complete and beautiful.
I love John the Baptist. I know he points to me in my own sinfulness. I feel John’s frustrations that we just don’t realize what our faith is about. I also feel his integrity and his hope for a better world when we finally know fully his cousin, Jesus. John is not the normal illustration of Christmas. His smelly body and ripped camel’s hair wrapping, his screeching voice in the heat and his pointing without hesitation to Jesus and to our sin. However, it is exactly our hearts made clean that become the birthplace for Jesus to rest his salvation. Our heart hearts become the places in which Advent will make sense to us even this year. We desire forgiveness and the realization that hope is born in us. We are the caretakers of such a mystery.
Be ready for beauty and hope this Advent,