As we return to Ordinary Time in the Church Year, we revisit an important Advent figure in this Sunday’s readings: John the Baptist. John points the way to Christ: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29).
What John the Baptist did in his time we are asked to do in our time, especially in the ordinary and routine of daily living. By our words and actions we are asked to point the way to Christ. How might we do this as we begin 2017? First, we need humility. The word ‘humility’ comes from the word ‘humus’ which means the substance of things. Humility means what is real and true. Thinking too much of ourselves and thinking too little of ourselves is not humility. In either case we are too preoccupied with ourselves. To point the way to Christ, we need to get out of the way. When we think too much of ourselves, we end up in self-importance. When we think too little of ourselves, we sink into self-doubt.
John the Baptist knew who he was and who he was not. He knew that he had a special role to play in paving the way for Christ. But he also knew that he was not the Christ. When asked directly; “Who are you?” (1: 20), John answered clearly: “I am not the Christ” (1:21). “I am a voice crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’” (1: 23). Such inner clarity enabled John to pave the way for Christ by not to get in the way of Christ. When we think too much of ourselves (self-importance) or when we think too little of ourselves (insecurity) we distract from Christ who is our Savior and our God. So, we need to be humble if we are truly to love others.
The second virtue we need to point to Christ as John the Baptist did is simplicity of life. John the Baptist was a stark figure in the desert, eating locust and wild honey and dressed in camel’s hair. I do not recommend the specifics of John’s life-style because, in today’s world, you will only attract attention to yourself or cause people to avoid you. Once again, we need to get out of the way so Christ can come. That’s the goal of love. Our preoccupation with material things and money, be it savings or cash, detracts from love. Being always busy and ‘on the run’ keeps us from giving ourselves over to the present moment and paying attention to others. If we are always in a hurry we are never in the moment and, if we are never in the moment, we are not capable of love. In such situations, we get in the way of Christ and we do not point the way to Christ.
The third virtue we need to be John the Baptist for others is perseverance. The problem with compassion is not whether we are compassionate or not. The problem with compassion is twofold: we are exposed to so much suffering that we become numb or self-protective and, in the long middle of life, we can get tired or bitter. We are now far from love and close in on ourselves rather than point the way to Christ.
Humility, simplicity and perseverance: these are the virtues for 2017!
May the Lord give you peace so you can point the way to Christ.