A lot of Christians, according to the Advent calendar, talk about John the Baptist this week.
I remember the day John the Baptist showed up in Dewey Church of Christ when I was a teenager. We joked about it after he'd left, that we thought he'd gotten beheaded and where was the scar?
As I reflect on that weird experience of standing in the lobby talking to "John the Baptist," I wonder how many odd people remind us of Jesus. Even in his day John the Baptist was a quack in the eyes of many. He alienated the religious leaders, called them snakes. He stuck his nose in Herod's allies-and-additional-wife program, suggesting his allegiances and indulgences were far from God's desire. Still, soldiers, the crowds, and tax collectors asked him, "What should we do?" For each he had practical spiritual answers. Have two coats, give away one. Stop extorting money from civilians. Be satisfied with your pay and don't charge ursury and exorbitant fees.
John the Baptist dressed weird: camel skins. He ate weird: locus and honey. Although, I've eaten handfuls of locus in Uganda, honey is a beautiful food, and mohair is still popular today.
Yet for all his off-the-wall prophetic oddness, John the Baptist got it, and he knew Jesus was the one who should be washing him in the Jordan River. It was John who witnessed one of the most beautiful moments in the story and life of Jesus, when the Spirit came down on them and God the Father said, "I'm proud of you, my son." And when John got discouraged in prison and sent messengers to ask Jesus, was he really the one, Jesus sent loving assurance that what John had preached was indeed the truth, that Jesus was the One and that the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the poor have good news preached to them, and then he added a blessing for him and all who would not reject God in this moment (Matthew 11:5-6).
So all this gets me thinking about that guy who came to church one day years ago. I don't remember what time of year it was, but maybe it was this week of that year. Maybe John the Baptist had come to visit, and maybe we just didn't have ears to hear.
I'm filling in the high school class in my church on Wednesday nights for a while. Last night I challenged the students to have ears to hear those who are a bit odd or uncool or wearing mohair, sucking on a bit-o-honey who might be announcing the arrival of Jesus in their lives, calling them to make their path straight. Some have closed their ears to their out-of-touch parents, others are seized by bitterness, others may be listening but have hearts that, like those snakes John shouted at by the river, need to be softened.
What do I need to repent of today? What's John the Baptist calling me to prepare for, to make straight, to right in my life? How would John the Baptist respond to your question, "What should we do?"
Perhaps it's to make it through this season without going into debt. Then keep track of your money you spend on Christmas. Next year you tithe that to a charity or just give $100 or $500 to people you know in need. And perhaps you need to spend 2007 getting to know someone in need. If you don't know someone you can help who is need, you are blind and avoiding the realities around you. You need to repent and open your eyes and ears. Christmas is a good season to start.
Wisdom, Jesus says (Matthew 11:19), is proved right by what it does.