Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Craziness of John the Baptist - A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Second Sunday of Advent
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
December 4, 2016

John the Baptist: the last of the Old Testament prophets; the Forerunner and the Precursor to Christ; one of the central and key voices in our Advent liturgy who beckons us to prepare the way of the Lord; and a complete and utter loon.  

John the Baptist was crazy. Bonkers, even. Not mentally ill, not suffering from a psychosis, just plain old nuts. Biblical scholars tend to describe him as eccentric, but this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. He lived in the wilderness, wore clothing made out of camel’s hair, and ate bugs. At a time when the region of Judea was considered culturally, economically, linguistically, and religiously rather sophisticated, a person like John the Baptist really stood out. He was the unwashed, unkempt, scraggily, scrubby nut job who inhabited the desert peripheries of Judea – the guy everyone gossiped and talked about. But none of this is why I say John the Baptist was crazy. It wasn’t his diet or his appearance or his way of living…it was his message. John was crazy because he believed something crazy and he dedicated his whole life to preaching this craziness to others. He believed that the God of heaven and earth, the God Who created all things and sustained them in existence, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had become – in the fullness of time – a man. While he was still in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, John leapt like a fanatic when he came into the very presence of Adonai, God Himself, in the womb of the young maiden from Nazareth. Before he ever saw the light of day, John the Baptist knew in the very core of his being that God, Emmanuel, had made His fleshly dwelling among us. It was mind-boggling, it was extraordinary, and it was absolutely crazy. The people of Israel surely knew that God was going to send them a Messiah and Savior, but it was beyond their wildest imaginations that this Messiah and Savior would be God Himself, in the flesh, clothed in their very own humanity. But before this kind craziness could be seen and accepted not just by the people of Israel, but by every land and nation, a crazy man capable of announcing this crazy news had to go out and prepare the way. John the Baptist took this task on boldly, and with a figurative sickle in his hand, he went out about like a mad man cutting down and carving a path, an in-road, for the God-Man to come into the midst of His people. John chopped away at everyone’s preconceived notions, at their worldview, at their complacency and smugness…and he called them to repentance, to change their lives, and to ready themselves to be overcome by the presence of God Himself. He didn’t care what people thought of him…he didn’t live this life seeking comfort or power or wealth…he knew that God became man in Christ and that his whole life should be spent bringing others to see and follow and love Him. He was crazy, but only because He was the herald of something even crazier.

The great dramatist and philosopher, Seneca the Younger, wrote in his dialogue On the Tranquility of Mind that craziness, madness, is simply the mind completely and utterly excited as it begins to grasp truth. He even quotes Aristotle as having said that, “no great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.” The craziness of John the Baptist captures this dynamic beautifully. Of the prophets that preceded him – Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, of them all he is the last. In him rests their centuries of longing for God to fulfill His promises and to make Himself known. The great truth of what God has in-store for humanity is revealed to John, and it is not merely his mind that grows excited in response to this, but his heart and soul as well. John goes mad, crazy, bonkers in the best possible way because He knows that God has come to save His people in the craziest, most unexpected of ways.

2,000 years have passed since the craziness of John the Baptist’s message set the people of Israel on fire. We find ourselves here, in our own day, on the Second Sunday of Advent in December of 2016 still reflecting on this burst of madness that changed the world so many years ago. But now the question for us is, does this burst of madness change us? Does the reality of God’s crazy love for us stir us into a crazy excitement of mind, heart, and soul as it did for John? Or have we, in our own complacency, forgotten it all? I think that, in our present society and culture, the luster and excitement and craziness of Christianity has been all-too-tempered into polite normalcy by those of us who just want to “fit in.” Some of us downplay the tenants of our Catholic faith out of fear that others will think poorly of us. Others of us have stopped believing these tenants altogether out of fear that we might start thinking poorly of ourselves. The reality is, my friends, our faith is just as crazy, just as mind-boggling, just as mysterious, and just as true as it was in the days of John the Baptist. And if we let it, if we allow ourselves to be captured by it, it can become just as new and just as exciting to us in our day. John evangelized people successfully not because he was smart, or articulate, or funny, or charismatic…but because he was crazy. He was crazy in love with a God who was crazy in love with him. It changed him and it helped to change the world.

My friends, in just a few short weeks we will be entering into the great celebration of God’s holy, amazing, and crazy love for us…a love that caused Him to take on flesh, to become man, and to making His dwelling among us. And in a few short minutes, we will approach this altar to receive God’s holy, amazing, and crazy love for us once again in Holy Communion…a love that causes Him to take on the appearance of bread and to make His dwelling in us. Today let’s pray for the strength to cast aside all of our preconceived notions, all of our arrogance, all of our complacency, and learn to respond to God as John the Baptist did, by loving Him just as crazily as He loves us.

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