As I get older, my relationship with the scriptures has changed. These texts become less an object to study, and more a life-companion to point the way on this strange journey with Jesus. In other words, the biblical writings – especially the gospels – get under my skin. How about you?
This Sunday’s Gospel introduces, or re-introduces, a figure well known to us: John the Baptist. We know him as the feisty, unvarnished character who confronted the people who came to him with the truth of their lives: their need to repent, to turn around. For those who accepted John’s challenge to see themselves as they really were, John used a symbolic act: ritual washing in the River Jordan. We call it Baptism.
My thoughts run to those few brutally honest, candid, blunt people in my life who have told me the truth about myself – confronted my self-deceptions, and challenged my way of seeing and acting. I’m grateful I’ve had a few such people in my life. I hope you have, too.
A true friend, a colleague, an honest mentor, or a good psychotherapist - they can all be a “John the Baptist” to us. They will challenge us to see your life more clearly – both the bad and the good. They knock down our delusions of grandeur, and also challenge our irrational self-criticism. In spiritual terms, they reflect back to us what God sees in us: flawed, but cherished, human beings:
- “Do you think you are so capable that you can get along without any help?”
- “Are you really aware of the amazing gifts you offer…at home, at work, at church?”
- “How come you are so ready to forgive others, but you are so hard on yourself?”
- “Why do you pay attention to other people’s feelings, but discount your own?”
We need this honest self-examination – a stark wilderness time – to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus fully at Christmas – a time in the verdant garden of God’s love and light poured out upon us. That’s what Advent is about. I hope there is someone in your life who will honestly reflect back to you your whole human self: the dark hidden places that need to come to light, and also the glorious, God-filled person that you are. If you have a “John the Baptist” in your life, you are blessed indeed. JBM