Creighton University's Online Ministries
Becoming John the Baptist
Accepting the Call to Prepare the Way for Jesus
Advent can take us way beyond preparing for Christmas. It certainly does prepare us to be open to the gifts that come with this season. It is a season of hope and expectation. We encounter what happens when we taste our longing and can say, "Come, Lord, Jesus" at a deeper and more personal level. However, Advent can also draw us into the mystery of being not only "preparing" but to become one who is called to prepare the way for Jesus, in our world, for others.
John the Baptist is given to Elizabeth and Zachariah, and to us, as a Hebrew testament prophet. He comes in order to be a precursor. He is the one who steps right out of the message of the Prophet Isaiah to prepare a way for our God to save us - in the midst of the wilderness, the wasteland - wherever there is hopelessness. His message is that the mountains aren't too high, the valleys aren't too severe for our God to come and save us - to be with us. He comes to make it clear that he himself is not the promised one. He is only to announce and prepare his way. He calls for repentance and offers forgiveness. He comes with power to speak the truth to those who would be threatened by the good news. And, John pays a prophet's price for his discipleship.
Becoming John the Baptist
Advent is a time for us to hear the call - ultimately which comes from Jesus - to prepare his way. We are sent before him to the non-geographical places where the good news of Jesus hasn't been heard or where it is no longer accepted. Pope Francis tells us - in the Joy of the Gospel - that we share the good news best by our actions, more than by our words. Our inner joy, made manifest in our freedom to witness our joy, in our service for others, evangelizes, that is, it credibly announces the good news of our salvation in Jesus. We tell people about it best when we look like we believe it, and we look like we believe it because we live it.
We become those who prepare the way for faith, through our core relationships and in our families, when we witness our faith in Jesus. Perfectionism, harshness, judgements, the pointing finger never brought anyone closer to Jesus. Yet, this is too often what "being religious" looks like to others. Our role in preparing the way for Jesus is to announce, to witness, to show how full of joy and how free we are by the personal relationship we have with Jesus. It is the exact opposite of being "self-righteous" or "impatient." We "proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes" when we look and act like loved sinners. When we know we are forgiven and saved by God's mercy in Jesus, we are not only free from our own self-centeredness, but we become courageous in loving as we have been loved. We become compassionate. We have the heart of Jesus for others. We are the people who keep the door open, even when it seems there is no hope that someone will return. We become more merciful. We hear the cries of those in need and we reach out and stand on the side of those in need.
When we are on fire with the reality of the Incarnation of our God - for us - we become not only more charitable, and kind and generous. We become on fire with being advocates for those in need. We desire, with Jesus, with the power of the Holy Spirit, to stand up and speak the truth about the need for justice and prepare a highway for Jesus to let God's Kingdom come on earth - as it is in heaven.
Becoming John the Baptist, we point to Jesus
Like John, we don't call attention to ourselves. We point the way to Jesus. We say, "Look, there he is." "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" When we point the way to Jesus, who is mercy, we become ambassadors of his mercy. One of the most effective ways we can do this is to let ourselves not only be filled with the good news, personally, but to let ourselves fall in love with Jesus - to fall in love with his story, his example, his way of being, his trust in the Father, his parables, his healing presence. Everything about Jesus becomes more and more attractive to us. We come to him and learn from him. Our very being "proclaims the greatness of our God."
The Cost of this Discipleship
As we live the life of Jesus in our world, we will experience immediately how counter-cultural it is. It is very difficult to be non-judgmental and compassionate in a very harsh world, in a sometimes very severe community. Living the life of Jesus, speaking truth to those who sustain injustice, will cost us. If we actively engage in dismantling unjust social structures, it will cost us dearly. Sometimes, even being kind and compassionate will cost us. Speaking about mercy and acting with forgiveness, building bridges, rather than walls, will too often place us at odds with others. John the Baptist found himself in a Herod jail, unsure of his survival, for speaking out about Herod's life style. It must have shaken him because he sent some of his followers to go to Jesus and to ask if he had been a prophet in vain: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus sent them back to John with this message: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7)
John gave his life, becoming a martyr who inspires us today. He died in the consolation of Jesus' assurance that he was blessed in his trust in Jesus and his way. John had prepared the way, and pointed others to Jesus, where they found healing and good news.
Asking for the grace
During Advent, we can ask for the grace to become a John the Baptist, in whatever way the Lord wants to use us to open a door for him today. The opportunities will come. We can simply ask to be opened to see them - to recognize them - and to be given the courage and the trust to be an instrument of grace for others. We can give that special content to the prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus, Come."