During Advent, we always meet John the Baptist in the Sunday Gospel readings. John is a colorful figure, and we all love him for it. But we might not love him so much if we met him in the desert! Especially if he was shouting in our direction!
There’s a wonderful question in Luke’s account of the birth of John the Baptist. When John was born, people asked themselves: “What then will this child become?” (Lk. 1:66).
What did John become? And why is he still so important?
Luke's Gospel identifies John as the prophet who came to smooth rough ways by levelling mountains and filling in valleys. That sounds like hard work. And it is. Because when it comes to the human heart, most of us have no interest in having our mountains levelled or our valleys filled in. We go through our days saying, “I’m just fine thank you,” continuing right along the same rough path as always. It was John’s momentous task to convince people that they are not fine. As Jesus would later explain, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do” (Lk. 5:31). It is hard work convincing people that they need a physician. How often have you put off a visit to the doctor? How often have you ignored pains and symptoms, hoping they would go away on their own? John’s preaching convinced people that they could no longer ignore the symptoms. And they repented, making way for a healing Savior.
John was a sight to see, a man of the desert, and I imagine his prophetic voice was quite loud. We still need that loud voice ringing in our ears, that strange sight of someone so different telling us that something is not right in our lives, in our world. Our own spiritual blindness, our self-satisfied complacency, is the impenetrable fortress John wanted to knock down.
This was the work of the one who was not even worthy to loosen the thong of Jesus’ sandal! This was the preparation for something even greater. So imagine – imagine – what Jesus can do in our hearts if first we listen to the voice of the Baptist!