One of the great stars of the Advent season is John the Baptist. The gospels of Mark and Matthew attest to the large numbers who heard him and went out to see him. The Baptist was a man of the desert and began his preaching there.
Throughout biblical history, leaders and visionaries have gone to the desert to see more clearly, to listen intently for God's voice, to discover new ways to live. The "desert" or "wilderness" is that holy place where God's word is unbound and completely free to be heard. Advent offers us a chance to return to our deserts and discover the word that God has spoken to us.
Luke makes vivid in his gospel the meaning of repentance and forgiveness which John the Baptist preached. It was not to consist simply in sentiments of sorrow and remorse, but rather repentance translated into concrete actions.
There was a great sense of expectancy among the people of John's time for a Messiah. The crowds asked him, "What then shall we do?" The Baptist told those with two coats to share one with those who had none. Likewise, those with an abundance of food were to share with the hungry. Tax collectors were told to collect no more than was appointed to them. Soldiers were to rob no one and be content with their wages. People in general were told to be generous, just, honest, grateful and compassionate.
While in prison, John began to hear about the deeds and message of Jesus. John sent his own disciples to Jesus to ask him: "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"
Jesus (according to Matthew 11:2-6) sent back the message: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed are those who take no offence to me."
John probably expected a fiery social reformer certainly not someone who would associate with the poor, the lame, the blind, outcasts and sinners. Yet Jesus invited John to look around and see the works that had already been accomplished. At times, our Messiah is just so ordinary that we overlook his presence, his message and his works.
What then shall we do to prepare for His birthday this year? Let me suggest a plan of action for these final weeks of 2005: Carve out a little piece of desert in the midst of the busyness of your life. Go to that desert place and listen to God's voice.
When you return, mend a quarrel. Build peace. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a love letter. Share some treasure. Give a kind answer even though you would like to respond harshly. Encourage a young person to believe in him/herself.
Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Find the time. Make time. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Listen more. Apologize if you were wrong. Be kind even if you weren't wrong!
Try to understand. Flout envy. Examine the demands you make on others. Think first of someone else. Appreciate. Be kind and gentle. Laugh a little. Laugh a little more. Deserve confidence. Take up arms against malice. Decry complacency.
Express gratitude. Go to church. Stay in church a little while longer than usual. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth.
Speak your love. Speak it still once again. Speak it even more loudly. Speak it quietly. And in the midst of everything, rejoice! The Lord is near!