John the Baptist
Today there is a funny feeling in the Church everywhere. The Crib is back in storage, the Wise Men have returned to the East, the shepherds to their flocks, the angels have stopped singing. Instead of a gospel about a newborn baby names Jesus, we hear about a gaunt ascetic called John.
We are now in what the Church ironically calls Ordinary time, back to the old routine, but it is not. Christmas was not an end, only a beginning. Christmas was a high point, but not the highest. Christmas changed our world, but only if you let it be changed.
You see, no Christian can live on Christmas alone. Jesus is no longer an infant. He did not stay in Bethlehem, make the crib his condo for life. He went to live in a place that we would never think to look for him.
We know little about his early life. His public life was short, and he spent most of it with those the self-righteous and despised – those they called sinners. He preached a message everyone could understand. Love God above all else and love your sisters and brothers as you do yourself. His life in Bethlehem was but a beginning, a prelude to Jerusalem and the cross. But even the cross was not an end. If Jesus was born to die, he died to rise again.
Now let us turn from Jesus to John. He is not the most attractive character in the gospels- clad in camel hair, eating locusts, shouting “repent!” Jesus says, “I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen.”
Forget the wilderness wardrobe, the desert diet. The Baptist was great in God’s eyes because he had an uncommon commission. His whole life had a single focus. John pointed to Jesus. Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He never pointed to himself.
“I am not the Christ”, he told the priest and Levites. “Among you stands one whom you do not know. The strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. He must increase, but I must decrease.” Our Christian calling demands very simply that we point to Christ.
Whatever we do in life because of our baptism, we have to point to Christ. This is not a pious pap. This is what Bethlehem was all about. God became like us so that we could become like him…that we may become Christ-like. The critical question we all ask ourselves is: Where does Christ, our Lord, rank on our admiration list, our imitation list? Is our model on what it means to be human, to be alive, is it around him that your life revolves?
How does Christ stand up against all those people, places or things that vie for our affection, our time? The root principle that motivates you from morning to night should be the same principle that powered Jesus. “I seek not my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.” Profess this principle day after day and you will do it when you pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” In other words, whatever you want Lord. This can be a troublesome prayer because at times you do not know what God’s will is.
Christian life after Christmas, like John, should point to Christ. Not with a wave of the hand, not with pious prattle…love and peace, not by wearing a bell, book and candle. You point to Christ by what you do and who you are, the way you treat others.
Whatever you do, you do it in a Christ-like fashion so the Father can say of you- “This is my beloved son/daughter with whom I am pleased.” And wherever you are, never cease searching for what our Lord would have you do. Today, tomorrow, for life.