Why does John the Baptist fascinate me?

A friend asked me this the other day, and I said I don’t know, it just happened during Advent last Christmas. Just pop! Suddenly I wanted to learn more about John the Baptist, besides that he’s so weird and bug-eating. Suddenly I wanted to start a blog. It seemed to work out. “He’s so humble,” I said aloud. I am attracted by his very humbleness, by how he constantly points to Jesus and not to himself.

And perhaps also I am attracted because he pops up every Advent, one of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas each year. Yet I’ve never really paid attention to Advent or John. Let’s get out of the dark and into the light and joy already. Suddenly I want to linger a bit in the beginning, in the doorway, at the start, in the shadow, in the slow build-up of the music. It’s almost a circling back around, a spiral in my bible study. Only now do I want to think about the beginning.

John the Baptist (as opposed to John one of the disciples, or any number of other Johns in scripture) seems a strange, wild, lonely figure. He’s trying so hard to be heard. Yet he’s the son of a Priest, he could have had a voice of his own with the authority of the Temple if he had followed in his father’s footsteps. He didn’t have to make life so hard for himself. He chose to become an “other”, to move to the edge. He acts with such agency in the stories — and yet, again, not for his own gain.

I once spent six painful months studying Jepthath’s daughter’s story in the Old testament, in Judges. Once I was caught by the story of the Prodigal Son for nearly six months. Oh my! One Christmas the Luke story of the birth of Jesus seemed newly written and more beautiful and fascinating than anything else ever (well it still does). One spring the Matthew story of Christmas completely absorbed me. In fact the Gospel of Matthew is often full of what I think of as the mystical or creepy — I love it.  It seems that this is how I learn, by just pulling and pulling at the threads of a biblical story that catches me.

Or this is how God works to shape me, mold me, mend me, heal me: how might I need to understand John the Baptist in this phase of my life? As I age and as my child enters into adult things, is my place on the stage turning to the sidelines? How do I mentor an almost-adult, or anyone for that matter, when “authority” is not the right move? How to be humble and yet also aware of my agency, my responsibilities? How do I respond when those in authority don’t want to hear my voice? (And hopefully not get my head cut off.) As I age it feels as if I’m turning invisible. Is that perhaps an opportunity not a problem? Perhaps it is a chance to learn, however painfully, some humility. Perhaps it is something to push back upon and not let it claim me. Or perhaps what feels like a new step or place in life needs John the Baptist to ground me in love and joy and hope (to point me fully toward Jesus), although this age could so easily feel like the doorway to only death and illness and darkness.

Thank you — all of you who read me — for listening and joining me on my strange journey with John the Baptist. There’s more to go, and I do not know what will catch me next.






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