Being named John, I have many saints to call upon to intercede for me as I struggle to navigate my way through life in this world. When I was younger, I would often focus my efforts on asking St. John the Evangelist, the Beloved Disciple, to intercede for me. And while I knew that St. John the Baptist was just as important, in fact, the very one of whom Jesus said that “no greater man born of woman” has ever lived, I so often kept him at arm’s length.
I’m not sure why I shied away from John the Baptist. Maybe it was his reputation of being a rabble rouser. Maybe it was his extreme diet and clothing. After all, he was known to wear camel hair and to live on a diet of locusts and wild honey. Maybe it was the fact that his words were not only challenging but even at times harsh when speaking to such groups as the Pharisees. But then again, are not the words of Jesus himself at times difficult to accept, especially when he refers to the Pharisees and Scribes as whited sepulchers?
And yet, as I have grown older, and perhaps a bit wiser (only a bit, as my siblings like to point out to me), I find myself more and more drawn to the person of John the Baptist. John was not afraid to speak the truth. In a world which is increasingly hostile to what we, as Christians, believe the truth to be, I find that I need the courage of John the Baptist to be able to speak up for what I believe to be the truth. And while I never thought of him as being particularly humble, I am increasingly drawn to the words he spoke in giving his own testimony to Jesus when he said, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom stands and listens for him, and is overjoyed to hear the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must increase; I must decrease.” He must increase; I must decrease. These words are certainly challenging. I find them personally challenging, as if John himself were saying them directly to me that I might follow his example of allowing his entire life, his entire being, point the way to Christ.
During this Season of Advent, specifically the second and third weeks, we are invited to focus on the person of John the Baptist not as an end in himself but rather as the voice of one crying out in the desert, “make straight the way of the Lord.” We are invited to follow his example in always allowing ourselves to point to Jesus. Like John, we are called to be voices crying out a similar message, so that the world will be ready when Christ comes again to usher in the end times. We are called to follow the example, who allowed his own life, his own ego, to be emptied so that we might focus not on ourselves, but on Christ Jesus himself, who is the light to which John gave testimony, who is the Word become flesh, who is the Only Begotten Son of born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judea in the fullness of time.