No Advent would be complete without a nod to the gruff and unpleasantly challenging prophet John the Baptist. This “in-your-face” “call em’ as you see em’” prophet dressed in a ragged camel hair, smelling of bug breath and the poverty of desert discipleship isn’t exactly the cozy Christmas character we might expect at this time of year. In fact, he comes across as somebody solidly off his rocker!
He isn’t the subject of cheery ceramic gifts for our family. You won’t find him featured in heart-warming holiday films or as a sugar cookie figure. And though he is strongly featured in our scriptures read at Mass each advent, you won’t receive any Christmas cards depicting him in your mailbox this season. Can you imagine? “Greetings from our house to yours. Our thoughts of you are best expressed in the words of John the Baptist” (open the card) “You brood of vipers! Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire!’ – Merry Christmas from the Brown Family.“
John’s words startle us, and though we may find his message disturbing, the integrity and zeal with which he delivers his message fascinates us just the same. He is a man who lives what he preaches – and that kind of integrity demands a hearing; haunts us in our complacency; disturbs us in our comfort. He is authentic; no pretentiousness; a man with a message who won’t be silenced or shamed by authorities. He is REAL and unabashedly a little weird.
John came to announce the coming of the kingdom of God. Do you think part of his message might be encouraging us to be real with one another? The kingdom – being the Body of Christ – certainty involves a deep form of togetherness, oneness, collaboration. Jesus taught us that God, in God’s SELF, God’s very essence IS love. God IS the love, acceptance, peace, forgiveness and sharing that is between us…the stuff that holds us together. Jesus prayed the night before he died that we all may be ONE. What might that look like?
Let me ask you this. Who are you more drawn to? The perfectly polished person who has it altogether, never loses a beat, never fails a test, or makes mistakes at work. The person who is always calm, cool, collected, seeming always to have the answers and isn’t afraid to flex or flash his or her apparent strength and perfection? OR…
Or are you drawn more to the person who is a little wonky; a little rough around the edges. The person who is a tad disheveled, has good days and rough days, the person who feels low on occasion and doesn’t even attempt to convince you that they “have it altogether” – because they know that even if they did, they would likely forget where they put it. Who do you feel more connected with? The person who isn’t afraid to “let it all hang out” so to speak – flaws and all or the person who comes across as perfectly polished in everyway?
And, a follow up question. If God came to connect us, and is literally the stuff between us, the glue that holds us together – the love, affection and connection between people – and Jesus was sent by God to show us how to be one, then doesn’t St. Paul’s words that “In our weakness, he is strong.” Make great sense? I think sometimes Jesus didn’t hang out with the so called sinful “rabble” of this world – the tax collectors and prostitues – to make some big theological statement, but rather simply because they were more real and let their real selves – even, if not especially, the broken parts – show and hang out. They were shining examples that God does not use us DESPITE our faults and failings, but rather IN and THROUGH them is bringing about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of love, where all of us are ONE, where we realize how connected we are and work together to establish God’s reign of love and justice.
Maybe that is why God came to us as a vulnerable little baby. What draws a room together more than a baby? Even toddlers, when they are smelly, cranky, crying, we feel drawn to them because they don’t hide a thing.
Maybe honest sharing and vulnerability – or letting it all hang out like John – are not weaknesses but rather our truest Christian superpowers; the way God shows his strength in us. What if sharing our “realness” – most especially in times like these – not hiding our true selves, even if we deem them to be quite a mess at the moment – is the key to our oneness? If we are brave enough to show our real selves, in all our weakness and vulnerability, maybe that is where God shines the brightest? What would happen if we let the people nearest to us know how we are really doing during this difficult time in our collective life. Could it be that our togetherness is the greatest remedy for suffering?