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The Nativity of John the Baptist "Living In Between"

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“The Nativity of John the Baptist” Living In Between

“Inside every skeptic is a disappointed idealist.”  These are the words of George Carlin.  Prophets might sound like disappointed idealists.  But true prophets not give into despair. Given the recent suicides of famous people in our world we need to be reminded what we Christians believe. We believe in a message which says that every life has meaning. Because every life is part of the story of redemption.

            St. John the Baptist might be said to be the patron saint of “in betweenness.”  What does this mean?  What it means is that John the Baptist lived in an era of transition.  Living in a time where there seems to be not institution you can trust is a difficult place to exist.       

            In John the Baptist’s time, the people remembered great kingdoms of the past like those of David and Solomon.  Israel, in those times, had been one of the most powerful countries in the Mediterranean world.  Israel had status. And their religion was esteemed.

            But when John was born, in the last century before the Christian era, faith in government was disappearing.  Israel was divided into three corrupt kingdoms.  Israel was occupied by a foreign government, Rome, which controlled everything.  Taxes were high.  The division between rich and poor was wide. No middle class really existed. 

            The government also controlled the religious life of the country.  The Romans named the Kings, the kings named the high priests.  So, the religious leaders were manipulated by the Romans.  The high priests had been bought off. Because of that, they did not want things to change.  The general population didn’t respect the government nor institutional religion. And there was a sense of despair in the land.  People were beaten down.  The Israelites longed for a reason to hope.

            Into this atmosphere stepped John the Baptist.  John has been called the last of the Old Testament prophets.  He did not gloss over the problems of his country.  He named the sin of King Herod.  John was a religious leader that people respected.  He couldn’t be bribed with power, status or money.  Physical intimidation did not keep him from speaking either.

            John didn’t just preach gloom and doom, though.  No, he was like all prophets.  His was an eschatological message.  What does that mean?  What it means is that his message was that a better day coming. John wasn’t preaching the end of the word.  He was proclaiming the end of an era.  He was predicting the end of an age.  A new time was coming.  His words were like Martin Luther King’s words in his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.  King who was greatly depressed at times because difficulty of the work God called him to do. He still preached, an uplifting message though. He repeatedly said he had been to the mountaintop and had a look at the other side.  And what he saw was a better world.  King predicted that that new world would not be for him to experience, but that it was something that he was not going to give up dreaming about. He was sustained by the vision.

            John the Baptist preached the same message.  A better society is coming.  He would never see it, but he was going to do what he could do to help bring that better world about while he lived.  He then would pass the torch to a new generation.  Any prophet is a true prophet only if they preach a message that ends with hope.  True prophets do not leave us to wallow in sorrow.  But they challenge us to think about a better future for our world. Christian prophets tell us that Jesus’ Kingdom will come no matter how unlikely it seems in the present moment.

             Today, we live in an in between time. We have a nostalgia for a bygone era when we could trust that our government was the based on high ideals.  We pine for a time when out church seemed to have a moral voice that was authentic, not discredited by scandal.  We seem to be cast adrift, don’t we?  We have people in our media who can describe problems very well whether they be news people, comedians, politicians, or religious leaders. We are constantly barraged with the difficulties of the world. 

            But the answer is not despondency. Nor is the answer to run away and hide.  The answer is to find religious meaning again for our life.  Healthy religion does not ignore the problems of the world it seeks solutions, but always with the sense that we must wait for the day when the task of justice will be completed.  Wrongs will be righted on that day.  Death will be defeated on that day.  Sin will melt before universal virtue on that day.  The Christian message, in the end, is a proclamation of hope.  John the Baptist proclaimed that idea with his birth, life and martyrdom.  We pray that we who possess the Christian message, now, will have idealism that does not give into evil. We pray for a conviction but a vision that looks at the world with unwavering faith.