Jesus has this cousin named John we have all heard of if you have been around the church for a while. John was a strange one. He dressed funny, probably smelled bad, and his politics, well, let’s just say that people would call him a bit more than just an agitator. There is a lot that John did not care about. Money, material things, and so on would be among the evils he would see in the world. I think if he would be around today, he might look upon us with a great deal of pity and desire to help us all find our way to a better way where we could once again connect with God without distraction.
This is the essence of what he is doing before Jesus starts his ministry. The world of John and Jesus was one that was not too unlike today. While the toys and tools are different, the Roman empire was wealthy and stable and the Middle East was the trade crossroads of the world. A very important piece of land, it also made for some very wealthy and powerful people. From accounts and writings it is easy to see that people were enamored by power and money or if they had neither of those, fear.
For people of the book this is problematic because the Bible is pretty clear that one should order themselves according to their faith in God or if you really get into it, their fear of God. But God was treated as an aside. Even within the religious community, God and Faith were being used as a tool of power, not some spiritual or hopeful expression.
So a lot of work was going to need to happen in order to help people find their way. So, as prophesized, we have John, who comes before the people to get the people to seek ways that they may become more connected and connecting them through the act of baptism to a life which is ordered and directed by God.
This is important because John is priming the people for what is to come, namely Jesus. Moreover, John is getting people to look inside themselves and recommit their lives to God.
Preparation is an important aspect of the Advent season. While we know that Christ has come, we also know that He will come again. We also know that throughout the year we find new and different ways to fall away or even to fall into patterns that we know to be wrong or misguided. Even worse, we often find ourselves succumbing to the magnetic reality of power, material things, and/or fear. So we remember John and his call to get our act together and order our lives to be with God.
In a very real way, as Micah says, we should look introspectively and ask if we are really seeking Justice, Loving Mercy, and walking humbly with our God in all aspects of our lives.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen