Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Virtues of St. John the Baptist: A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Second Sunday of Advent – Year B

December 7, 2014
The Virtues of St. John the Baptist

Every family has one of them: an unkempt, eccentric, basement-dwelling cousin who is freakishly intelligent but lacking in all, or most, social skills. He’ll awkwardly avoid conversation with anyone at the family reunion or around the Thanksgiving table, but if you only happen to mention one of his triggers, he’ll talk your ear off for hours. Make a passing comment about Star Wars and he’ll corner you to tell you all about the Storm Trooper helmet he made from cereal boxes or his plans for Comic Con 2015. Bring up how you took the kids to the see the Hobbit and you’re in for a 5-hour long discourse on the precise use of CGI (computer-generated imagery) in all of the Tolkien films. He’s not the first person you’d want to give the toast at your wedding, or that you’d ask to babysit the kids…but, in his own unique way, he brings something important and refreshing to your life.

Our Lord’s own family was not without its own such relative… St. John the Baptist, the cousin of the Lord, fit that bill pretty well. He was certainly unkempt, with his camel hair tunic and leather belt. He was definitely eccentric…not only in his appetite of locusts and wild honey, but in his overall personality. And maybe he didn’t live in a basement, but he did live in the wilderness, which is hardly a step up. John wasn’t interested in tedious table talk or playing a game of flag football with the other boys. He had one thing on his mind, and it truly and utterly consumed him. From the day that he met his divine cousin, leaping for joy in his mother’s womb, John would become single-minded in his devotion to Christ. Nothing else could distract him; nothing else could bring him a sense of satisfaction or worth. This was, of course, so that he could fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah and be that lone voice crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths. And people took notice of this…they saw past his eccentricity and were compelled by his passion.
As we trudge our way through these darkened days of Advent, John the Baptist certainly has much to offer us in his preaching. He exhorts us to repent, to turn away from our sin, and to look for the coming of the Lord. And these things we must do we great urgency, for the day of the Lord is surely at hand. But John also has much to offer us by means of his personal witness. I’d like to suggest that there are three particular virtues or attributes that the Baptist has that are worthy of our emulation and can help us wander to the Christmas Crib with greater ease.

The first is his humility. John the Baptist’s humility is not caught up in anything external. He is not humble because he wears camel skin or eats a poor man’s diet. He is humble because he knows who he is and who he is not. Imagine the temptation…great crowds were coming to him from all over and they began to think that maybe he was the one they had waited for, the long-promised Messiah…John could have very easily fed into the hype and made a name for himself, but he does not. He says instead, “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” The word “humility” comes from the Latin “humilitas” which is derived from the word “humus” which means “earth” or “ground.” Humility is thus about groundenness…being grounded in the truth of who we are. Had John fallen into one of the opposing vices of humility, pride or false humility, he would have failed to do the Lord’s bidding. If he were proud, he would have made himself out to be the Messiah. If he were falsely humble, he would have shirked from his noble responsibility. But John was truly and really humble, indeed the magnanimous man, because he knew who he was and who he was not, and so with a roaring voice he paved the way of the Lord. Following in the footsteps of the Baptist, we should be on our guard against the vices of pride and false humility; either one of these will prevent us from recognizing the Lord when He comes.

The second is his steadfastness. Not to tip my hat in any way to modern pop culture, but John the Baptist came in like a wrecking ball. He had one direction and one purpose…and no one would be able to dissuade him or throw him off his course. This steadfastness, grounded of course in his humility, allowed him to forsake any and all temporal desires for the sake of announcing the nearness of the Lord’s coming. He was unconcerned with maintaining house and hearth…indeed he had neither…and he was unconcerned with placating the desires of the people or looking good in their eyes. Stripped of anything that would hinder him from his mission, the Baptist plowed into Judea and made his message known with clarity and vigor. What hinders us from announcing the Lord’s coming? Our preoccupation with our material goods or the fear of losing them? An inordinate love of ourselves or of another? The desire to be admired by others? Whatever it is, the Baptist shows us by his steadfastness that only the unencumbered have the freedom necessary to prepare the way for and point to the Lord.

The third is his Christ-centeredness. John the Baptist, as humbly magnanimous and steadfast as he was, drew all of his purpose and meaning not from a notion, or a proposition, or an idea…but rather from a Person. John encountered the Christ Child when each were in their mother’s wombs…he encountered Truth itself in the Person of Christ, and this alone would become his driving force. He was so utterly and completely convinced that the joy he first experienced upon meeting the Lord was a joy that could be experienced by all…a joy that could pierce through the bitter trials of life, that could bring everlasting light into the darkness caused by sin. Thus he did not affirm people where they were at…he called them out of sin and complacency so that their lives could be completely and utterly changed by Christ. Do we worship a proposition or do we worship a Person? Do we come here to make ourselves feel better or so that we can convince ourselves that we’re good people? Do we use Christ as a means to another end, or do we love Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Like John the Baptist, we too can and indeed must make the choice to have Christ as the center and whole of our lives…or we’re just playing church.

St. John the Baptist…the unkempt, eccentric, desert-dwelling, socially awkward cousin of the Lord has much to offer us this Advent. We might be tempted to avoid him, as we do our own relatives who don’t quite fit into our social arenas. But if we open ourselves up to him, if we emulate his virtues of humility, steadfastness, and Christ-centeredness, we are sure to see the Lord when He comes and to love Him with the same kind of eccentric passion.

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