Most of us are familiar with St. John the Baptist. The Bible contains descriptions of his clothing, eating habits and his preaching. His testimony, which we hear in the Gospel reading on the third Sunday of Advent, is something to listen to, admire and imitate.
Imagine the influence that John had during his time. People were flocking to the desert to listen to him and be baptized in the Jordan River. He was admired by those who lived on the margins of society because he had the courage to speak truth to power, not counting the cost for himself.
John had a decision similar to the decisions we make in our lives. Are we honest about who we are, or do we pretend that we are someone or something else? John followed in a long line of prophets and knew his life task. He was to speak the word of God to a people who might find it difficult to hear and prepare the way for someone to come after him. Like all the other prophets, he was preparing the way; he wasn’t the one.
When John was asked how he would account for his position and power and was called on to identify himself, he quoted the prophet Isaiah — “I am the voice of one crying in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.”
We are making our way quickly through this season of Advent and realizing that the Scriptures are instructing us not only about history or the future but also about how to live in the present day. As Christians in the modern world, we are asked to be a witness by the way that we live. Like John the Baptist, we are prophets of one who is still to come again. We are not the savior of the world. We are not the font of all wisdom. We are not the one everybody’s been waiting for, but we are the prophets for the one who is to come.
Maybe we can do some similar things to what John the Baptist did. Maybe we can become known not just for the clothes we wear or food we eat, but for our words. We have a choice about how we speak to others, both the lowly among us and the powerful. Through our own words and witness, we could become those who prepare the way for the coming of Jesus.
Jesus comes into our lives every day, but for the most part, we fail to recognize Him. It might be easier to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread at Mass, but what happens once we get out of church and into our homes, businesses and friend groups? What happens when we have disagreements with others? Would those witnessing those events recognize us pointing to the way of Jesus? Would they experience His compassion and generosity through how we interact with others, including our enemies?
It can be encouraging and frightening to experience the Spirit of the Lord coming upon us. The Spirit of God is always with us and invites us to be the presence of Jesus in the world today. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead encourages us this very day to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners, and to announce a year of favor from God. Imagine waking up every morning knowing this is the task ahead of us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Enjoy these Advent days.
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.