Sunday the third candle in the Advent wreath was lit. This candle represents John the Baptist. The man wearing camel hair clothing in the desert, eating locust and honey, and preparing the way of the Lord. He was a modern day prophet to the Israelites. His calling was similar to Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah. With one big difference. His calling was to prepare the way for the Savior...who was coming right after!
In many ways [John] represents waiting...He proclaims Jesus' coming, points people to Jesus, waits eagerly for him, yet stands permanently on the outside. His role appears to be simply one of herald, announcing Jesus, point beyond himself, looking forward but never arriving. He stood, waiting, between the old and the new, because that was what God called him to do and, perhaps, in that waiting he found meaning.This year I found greater meaning than ever in hearing this story. I think it's because I was able to picture the surroundings. The areas where John lived and ate locust and honey. I know what camel hair feels like. I've felt the heat of the day...in the middle of a dry desert.
(photo was taken at Qumron, Israel)
In some ways John is the epitome of Advent: a figure in whom the past and the future meet in an explosive message for the present: John may be called to waiting, but his waiting can hardly be called passive; John's is an abrasive, disruptive, unsettling waiting- a waiting that is about as active as it is possible to be.
While we are called to wait, we're called to wait actively. Sitting around twiddling our thumbs does not count as active waiting. Sometimes, it can be hard to picture what active waiting might look like in certain situations. But we're to be ever moving forward, ever active in this adventure of following God. Even during the waiting times.
Part of the adventure of following God is discovering where God will lead us next. Knowing that God has called us tells us nothing about what God has called us to do. Even those who are more or less comfortably established in doing something to which they have been called by God cannot be certain that tomorrow, next month, or next year this calling will remain the same. The people who heard about John's birth knew that God was calling him and pondered where that calling might lead.Our following God truly is a journey or adventure. When I think of journey, I think of the active part. The walking, running, climbing, sliding, moving. It's fluid, and the surroundings are constantly changing. Our calling changes, we move, we change, new things come up. Old things end. There were never any promises that things would be easy on this journey. We go through times when we wonder exactly where God is and what he's up to, and how is this place and this time any help or any significance anyway. Think of John in jail. He sends his disciples to find out if Jesus is really the one they're waiting for. Don't you think he may have wondered what good his being in jail was in fulfilling his calling?
....We need to recognize that John the Baptist's calling is, in fact, our own calling just as he is called to point beyond himself, to deflect attention ever onward to the one who is the Light of the World so we are called to do the same. John's ministry sets up a chain of which we are now a part. He pointed to the truth so that "all might believe through him", once believing they, like the woman at the well, should pass on the message to others so that many might come to believe and pass it on themselves.
John the Baptists stands as an example to us of one who is prepared, in all humility, to recognize that he is not he center but the periphery; not the attraction but the signpost to the attraction; no the Light but the one who helps others see the Light. Jesus' calling to us all is that we pick up the baton of John and become witnesses to the one who brings salvation to the world. This is only a part, but an important part, of the reorientation that we were reflecting on in the previous passage. John the Baptist's message of repentance involves a huge reorientation in which the center of our believing becomes no longer ourselves but one who is much, much, greater.
The waiting we do at Advent reminds us of the importance of taking up John's baton of witness and passing it on, and of reorientating ourselves outward from the center of our lives so there is room enough for Jesus in the core of our being.
This begs the question, who are we passing the message on to? And what message does our life send to those who are waiting to see it?