The other day I led the communion worship service at one of our local nursing homes, and I read Luke 1:39-55 to them, which covers Mary going to see Elizabeth after getting the angelic news about Jesus, and Mary's Song of praise to God. When Elizabeth sees Mary, the baby in her womb kicks in recognition of who it is that is coming to their door.
I was struck by that last fact today. Even before he was born, John the Baptist was pointing towards the Christ. His life was fully given over to this task with an intensity and single-mindedness that blows me away. He was passionate, fully committed, and determined. And certainly NOT diplomatic. If he was around these days, he would be considered severly mentally ill, perhaps OCD with all his baptizing and yelling of "Repent, repent!" The Pharisees would have a restraining order out against him.
This coming Sunday's Gospel lesson, Matthew 3:1-12, highlights John and the message he was sent to proclaim. It is an uncomfortable one. I imagine he was an uncomfortable man to be around for any length of time. His zeal and focus would be exhausting to us average mortals. Yet, he still speaks to us. His energy, his passion still gets in our faces, and won't let us go. We tend to like the baby in the manger, but we're not so sure about the Messiah John talks about, the one who comes with the winnowing fork in his hand, who will "clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Ouch!
We need John. We need someone to hold up the mirror to our faces, and show us our hypocrisy. We need someone to remind us that God has a will for us and for this world. Most of all, we need someone who will kick us too, to help us see Christ. In the manger, on the cross, in the faces of the "least of these."
So maybe this Sunday the exhortation will have to be about being made uncomfortable, and about allowing the smelly, camel's hair wearing, locust and honey eating wild man a place in our Christmas preparations. Our expereince and understanding of Emmanuel, God With Us, will be better for it.