By Rev. Magrey R. deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist Church
First, read Luke 3:3-6
You would be hard pressed to find a Hallmark greeting card with a picture of John the Baptist on the front.
Drive around town at night, and it’s likely you will not find a house, decorated for Christmas, with a giant inflatable man wearing camel skin.
And the next time someone at the store wishes you “Happy Holidays,” or a neighbor says to you, “Merry Christmas,” I recommend you respond with a cheerful, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”
I’m not sure how he does it, but John the Baptist always finds a way to weave himself into the discussion every Advent. We may not like it; we may prefer placid scenes of shepherds on a starry night, or angelic visits to Mary and Joseph. Nonetheless, Advent wouldn’t be Advent — and preparing for Christmas just wouldn’t be the same — without this wild man from the wilderness.
He comes to us representing a tradition. His words and actions are fully in line with the prophets of old, who spoke controversial and uncomfortable words while performing memorable, attention-grabbing actions. He ate locusts and honey; he wore camel skin and leather. He emerged from the wilderness, and performed an odd ritual of dunking people into the water.
We may try to ignore him, outrun him, avoid him, and silence him. But somehow, John the Baptist sneaks into the sermon of every Advent preacher at some point before Christmas. And regardless of where he comes from, whether it be in Mark, or Luke, or in John, his purpose is the same: to grab our attention, and tell us to get ready.
John the Baptist bursts onto the scene as a voice crying in the wilderness, as sirens blaring in the rear view mirror, to get us to pay attention, slow down, and alter our actions. His words read like flashing blue and red lights, screaming, “Pull over! Keep alert! Snap out of it! You’re drifting off into a different reality rather than the one that is set before you.”
And his message is simple: Change your behavior. Ask God for forgiveness. Prepare the way for the Messiah.
This may not be the way we expect to start our Advent journey, but it’s the way we need to start it. By surrendering to the mystery, the complexity, and the wonder of the incarnation once again. And the one way that we can ensure that that happens, in the midst of the busyness and hectic nature of life is to find more stillness — and more silence.
One day, adventurous tourists got together to plan an African safari. They saved their money, bought their tickets, mapped out their expedition, and hired an African guide and porters to guide them. They arose early in the morning to begin their journey deep into the jungle and pressed hard the first day. When the sun went down, they pitched their tents and set up camp for the night.
Early the next morning, the adventurers were eager to embark on day two, to see more of the jungle and encounter more wild animals. But they were surprised to see their African guides and porters reluctant to start moving.
“What’s the problem?” they asked their guide.
The guide informed him that they had gone too fast the first day, and that they were now waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.
Maybe this Advent, you need to wait for your soul to catch up.
Maybe the way for you to prepare the way for the Lord is for you to slow down, and stop, and pay attention to the sirens in your rearview mirror.
Will you look for a way for your soul to catch up with your body, and restore balance to your life?
In other words, will you prepare the way of the Lord?
Discussion / Reflection Questions:
1) How might you invite silence into your own life and carve out time on your schedule to be free of commitments and be free of interruptions?
2) How will you build a time of prayer and meditation into your daily routine?
3) How might you limit the amount of stress normally associated with gift-buying and party going, and simply focus on quality time with those you love, rather than on impressive gifts?
4) What is stopping you from living a simpler, quieter, and roomier Advent? What is stopping you from preparing the way for Jesus to be born into your life?