“Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” That’s the opening line from today’s second reading from James and it captures the essence of Advent quite nicely. During Advent, we wait, we prepare, we anticipate. But what or who exactly are we waiting for?
The answer to that seems very obvious. We await the coming of Jesus – the baby born on Christmas day. And, the coming of Jesus into our own lives – at a day or hour we do not know.
Ok… but what kind of Jesus are we anticipating?
I think it’s interesting… and instructive… to look at the two John the Baptists we get in the two John the Baptist stories of Advent. They are very different from each other…
The first, which we heard in last week’s Gospel, contained a very bold, very brash, very confident young man who was speaking to the crowds that had come out to see him, to hear what he had to say. In a way, he was the rock star there, he had swagger, he was in control of that situation. When approached by the respected authorities of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees, he looked at them and in front of everyone, said: “You brood of vipers!” Imagine saying that? He was that confident.
John then described the coming Jesus as baptizing with fire and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. This was the Jesus that John foretold. And John foretold it with style. The day of reckoning is coming and you had better be ready, he proclaimed with a mighty fury.
But that was last week…
This week, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” This is a simple, humble question. It is tinged with uncertainty. Where did all the fury go? And the swagger? What exactly happened to John?
The answer is that this week’s John is now in prison… facing fear, vulnerability, uncertainty and the reality of his own mortality. The bravado was gone. And that’s understandable given his situation.
The response that Jesus sent back to John was not that he had come to set the earth ablaze and to separate and to conquer. No, not in this instance. Instead, he sent back a message about what the blind could expect, and the lame… the lepers, the deaf, and the poor.
Jesus identified himself to John not with fire, but with hope and healing. It was the kind of message that a man preparing for the end of his life might like to hear.
It is said that Advent is a four week metaphor for life. That we progress toward the coming of Jesus onto Earth… and into our personal lives. We progress. We move forward in this manner. For some of us, our story is like John the Baptist’s. We move from confidence and youthful exuberance… to vulnerability, challenge and the reality of our own mortality.
I can see this in my own dear mother who is confronting this right now, experiencing a decline in health and facing increasing challenge every single day. In a way, it’s hard to watch. But in a completely different way, it’s also beautiful. She is seeing her own life through the eyes of someone who is vulnerable, but also increasingly ready. Ready for what is coming. And I believe she is anticipating a Jesus who is not a conqueror and who intends to burn the landscape upon his arrival. I can tell she is anticipating a Jesus of mercy, of welcoming, of love, of hope and of healing.
My mom and this week’s version of John the Baptist seem a lot alike to me.
It is said that Advent is a four week metaphor for life….