“Sack Cloth and Camel’s Hair” by Rachael Flanagan, Fiat Ventures

Flickr User Leonardo Rizzi

Third Sunday of Advent

John the Baptist is one of my favorite personalities in the Bible. He is really out there. I mean, the ancient people were pretty accustomed to dramatic gestures – when they committed a sin, the standard form of repentance was to put on sack cloth (imagine wearing a potato sack) and heaping ashes on their own head. But John’s personality was a bit extra – even by those standards.  He lived in the desert by himself, wore clothing he made himself out of camel hair, and survived off of locusts (aka giant grasshoppers) and wild honey. There was a moment when some people approached him and were like, “Can you explain yourself? We’ve all been wondering…who are you? What are you up to?”   His response was, “Remember 800 years ago when the prophet Isaiah said ‘A voice proclaims in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!’ I’m that guy.”

I would imagine he had a wild, scraggly look about him, but his presence must have been magnetic. God had given John some important information to communicate to the people about the coming of the Messiah, and His approach was anything but subtle – nothing sugar coated or softened. He was direct and honest, surprising and blunt. Throngs of people came out to the desert to hear what this eccentric man had to say. He is known as “The Baptist;” one of his gigs was to tell people to forget the sack cloth and ash thing – but to simply repent their sins and be washed clean by the waters of Baptism. Famously, John’s cousin Jesus came out to be Baptized, and after that, the Baptism thing really caught on.

In the Gospel this Sunday, there is an interesting exchange between John the Baptist and Jesus. John has actually been imprisoned, and from his dungeon, sends his friends to go ask Jesus this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Basically – Hey cousin – before I get my head cut off, could you just confirm for me what I’m already 99% positive about? That you are the Son of God, the Messiah, whose coming I’ve been preaching about in the desert?”

This message took a long time to communicate since John’s friends had to walk on foot to go find Jesus in another town. But when they found him, Jesus responded with “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” If it were me, I might have sent my friends back with the follow up question, “So just to be clear, that’s a yes?” But luckily, I think John got the message.

Two thousand years ago, God used John to get everyone ready to meet Jesus Christ. As we wait for Christmas, we might find that John’s question for Jesus echoes in our own lives: “Are you the one, or should I look for another?”

Well, everything Jesus did while he walked on earth 2,000 years ago, he continues to do today. You haven’t missed out because you can experience it first hand.  “The blind regain their sight.” What are you blind to? What is it that you don’t see, that God wants to show you? “The dead are raised.” What do you need to be resurrected from right now in your life? Jealousy, anxiety, depression? A toxic relationship? Whatever it is, John the Baptist would tell you – what you are looking for is not far away or hard to get. Jesus’ forgiveness, healing and peace are here for you in the Sacraments, and we are reminded of this through the beauty and joy we experience on Christmas. Luckily, no sack cloth or ashes are needed. (We’ll save that for Lent.)

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