Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. Throughout the Advent/Christmas season, we offer a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent is from Unbound preacher Father Greg Schmitt, CSsR.
John the Baptist, whom Mark described in last Sunday’s Gospel and whom John describes this week, is certainly a man of conviction with a humble assessment of himself. He acknowledges that he’s not worthy to loosen the sandal strap of the one he’s announcing. His lifestyle is austere. He eats locusts and wild honey and he inhabits a desert out-of-the-way place.
For all of that, he was amazingly magnetic, though whether or not he was likeable is open for debate. He certainly did not engage in party-pleasant conversation. But something about him drew crowds of people who put themselves to great trouble to see him for themselves. A round-trip pilgrimage to John’s desert encampment from Jerusalem would mean about a 36-mile walk (uphill going back) over rough wilderness terrain.
Who would you walk 36 miles to see? And would you expect something more than the message that you needed to repent of your sins? A lot of ordinary people came out to John, probably with some heartfelt motivations. Some priests and Levites also came out, not because they were interested in repentance, but because they needed to keep their finger on the pulse of any religious movement. They came for answers.
Though he denied he was a prophet, John fit the mold of one. He was controversial, rousing and fiercely dedicated. Like the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, he came to proclaim change. He came to say, in effect, that “Things cannot be the same anymore, folks!”
John came to unpack the age of the Messiah, to break it open. And break it open he did. Following the footsteps of many prophets before him, he would be killed because he touched too many sensitive nerves. Though, officially, waiting earnestly for the Messiah, many were not ready to receive the One whom God was sending, nor the one who was announcing him.
Though Christmas may open our hearts to the “baby” Messiah, the baby will grow up to become priest, prophet and king. Above all, he will speak to us of God’s mercy and love, healing and compassion, God’s care for all of his people. He will also speak to us about the dedication of a fully committed life, a mature life that turns away from sin and evil and embraces the task of building a living, loving community. The angels rightly sing “Glory to God.”
In preparing the way for the Messiah, John the Baptist is also preparing the way for all of us. We are still being called to repentance and a readiness to receive what God is giving us in His own beloved son.
Prepare, you say. Teach us, Lord, to prepare, to be ready, to be transparent so that we may be caught in the grace of your ever-recurring arrival. May we awaken to that arrival in family, friends and those we sponsor. May the spirit of John the Baptist ignite the fire that keeps us fully alive and spread that life wherever we walk. Amen.