(Advent 2A) In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3: 1-12)
We never really know what to do with John. We sort of cringe when he shows up every year, sort of like a really loud, badly dressed cousin that won’t keep his mouth shut. John was the wilderness man who dressed badly and ate strange things. He did have a following apparently and yet it is doubtful that cousin John was one that you would want to invite to your next party. I mean, really, you never knew what would come out of his mouth and even if he’d bother to take a shower! And yet, John got it. Somewhere between being the badly dressed first-cousin-once-removed of Jesus and the wild wilderness man who would never have made it into the holiest holies of the temple, John found his voice.
Somewhere out there in the wilderness, away from the structure and the way things are supposed to be, John found it. Somewhere beyond himself, beyond the expectations of the world, John’s voice began to build. We need voices like that. They twist our carefully-chosen words into sentences of hope and paragraphs of transformation. They push are tastefully-structured thoughts into places we never dared to go. And it is those voices that will compel us to journey to the edge of what we know and peer off into the cavernous unknown where God is at work building that vision that is taking hold.
We Western Christians are too safe. Our sermons (well, at least mine) are carefully written so that we might dare to push people beyond themselves without irritating them too much. But John just ticked them off. While others were encouraging people to perhaps inconvenience themselves once in a while, John was telling them that their life needed to turn completely around. No longer could they rely on who they were. No longer would their tradition speak for them. They had to find their voice. They had to become the new creation that God was calling them to be. It would be risky. It might even be downright dangerous, threatening the way their lives were and the dreams that they held. But our faith journey is not about cleaning our lives up; walking in faith is about becoming something new. What does that look like? Speak up!
What if Advent was not a season where we prepare by cleaning up our lives but rather one where we might finally find our voice? What if Advent was the season where we did not just read the Magnificat but found our own? What if our preparation for the coming of Christ into our lives was not only a quiet, prayerful move to change but at the same time a noisy, risky walk through the wilderness of our lives where we finally, once and for all, speak what the world needs to hear and, more importantly, finally say what God is calling us to say? Have a wonderful, spirit-filled, noisy Advent! Speak up!
We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. (From “The Coming of Jesus in our Midst”, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, December 21)
FOR TODAY: What voice do you need to find this Advent?