In today’s Gospel John the Baptist is on the edge. He is on the edge geographically, socially, politically and even religiously. He has no wealth to speak of. He belongs to no defined religious group, being neither a Pharisee nor a Sadduccee, nor a Scribe. He identifies with no political agenda. He is no Zealot seeking the end of Roman occupation. He is a man in a desert, a man apart that the crowd is seeking out.
John the Baptist is a man on fire with a burning zeal to bring people closer to God. What was it about a wild man in a desert that caused the crowds to flock to him? What was in the hearts and minds of those who walked to hear John? What was guiding their footsteps? Was it hope that kept them going? Was there a hope that their lives might be different, might in some way be made better by an encounter with John?
As always, the Gospel passage leaves more questions than answers. I am left wondering what those conversations were like when fellow pilgrims were walking together to hear John. Were they daring enough to share their hopes and dreams, to give voice to their fears and their worries? Perhaps some were seeking a new life but I imagine that, while many were happy to be on the road, I suspect that ultimately they were just waiting to get back to the lives they had. The call to conversion is easier said than done. Still, there were those who were moved to become followers of John. Some would eventually become followers of Jesus.
As I reflect on this Gospel, I think of the people I know whose words and example speak so powerfully to me. I give thanks for how those lives have shone forth with kindness, love and a deep and abiding faith. They are wonderful people to walk with on the journey of life.
The Advent Journey we are on calls us all to conversion, to slow down our hearts to prepare for the wondrous feast that is the birth of our Saviour. In this Advent season we pray for the grace to walk in faith and joy with others. We pray for an openness to hear the good news and to respond with the gift of our lives so that we may have life in abundance.