John the Baptist always appears during the Advent season because he is seen as the forerunner of the Messiah, the one who warns everyone to prepare and get ready for Jesus. So, I did my (now famous) John the Baptist impersonation yesterday in church, complete with shouting about packs of snakes and whites-of-my-eyes glares. Honestly, John has always sort of freaked me out, much like the street corner evangelists you might find in Madison and Milwaukee (and probably any other major city or campus). I have crossed many a street in order to avoid the Bible-waving, hell-fire predicting so-called-prophets.
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The interesting difference between John and those guys in Madison is that John’s chosen location for his ministry is not in the middle of a city, but out in the desert – a place where it would be easy to avoid him. But scripture tells us that everyone – the whole region – was going out to see him anyway. Why? If one was looking for a spiritual fix, a little message from God, why go to all that trouble when you could attend another service at the temple or your local synagogue, maybe make an appointment with the rabbi? Obviously people were looking for something different from the temple or their usual religious haunts could provide them.
Here’s the kicker… if people weren’t willing to risk the wilderness, if they weren’t looking for something more, if they weren’t willing to make the effort to get there… well, they just might miss it all. Which raises the question for us: will we miss it – the light in the darkness, the hope, the magic, the peace – if we don’t go out of our way to find it? Will we go through the motions, but miss the event in our hearts?
One year, when I was about 22 I can remember going through the motions for Christmas. I decorated, bought presents, listened to Christmas Carols, the whole nine yards. But I was in one of those phases where I didn’t go to church much, and I missed it. I attended on Christmas Eve (thinking that was all I really needed to do) and I still missed it in my heart. I was going through the motions for that, too, and not feeling the impact or the meaning. I silently vowed to myself then and there that I wouldn’t miss it again… it meant too much.
Being at church during Advent was one of the things that helped me to center and keep focused on the spiritual side of the season. There are many other things that also help me stay focused so I don’t miss it again. How do you make sure you don’t miss it? Christmas coming, Jesus coming, the light coming, the magic flowing in your heart?
We are preparing for that thin place of Christmas Eve, that place where somehow the spirit is closer and more tangible, where the veil between this world and the next is so thin as to make it permeable, where even the most closed, unprepared hearts can be touched… but it is more likely to feel the brush of angel wings, have goose bumps on your arms, feel flooded with love and peace, glimpse the amazing joy and light of the Divine if we have prepared our hearts. Find what helps you prepare your heart… don’t miss it.