John the Baptist was living quite differently compared to people in his day. What he wore was different, what he ate was different, and what came from his lips was also different. Yet, John shared something in common with us today. Like Christians in this season of Advent, John knew that the Christ, or Messiah, had already been born, years before in the past. Like us, what John was preparing for was the coming of Christ anew.
That’s the reason why in Advent, in this season of awaiting the Messiah’s arrival, John the Baptist is so prominently featured in our Sunday Gospel readings, like today’s. By looking at John we can learn how to prepare ourselves for Christ’s arrival. As I mentioned before, John was rather different from his neighbors in his day. Today I suggest that we in the Church need to be a bit more different from everybody else if we want to prepare better for Christ’s coming this year.
What did John do with all that time alone in the desert, when he wasn’t out preaching or baptizing? Surely, John was praying, asking for grace and contemplating the one who was coming. The desert is a quiet place, free of distractions, and conducive to prayer. The world can make this month before Christmas a very stressful time. This Advent, you must find a desert, a quiet place, free from distractions, where you can pray each day. Create a daily desert space for your own family as well and prayer together as one. You cannot prepare well for Christ’s coming without daily prayer and the peace it gives.
What did John eat in the desert? He ate locusts, or grasshoppers, and wild honey. The wild honey may sound pretty sweet, until you realize that it was guarded by wild bees. John ate simply. Our meals in Advent should be simple too. You know how it is at Easter, when you enjoy what you gave up for Lent again for the first time? You find yourself enjoying what you denied yourself more than ever before. Then just think of how much greater your Christmas feasting will be if you eat more simply in Advent. (Besides, if you fast or diet now, there will less pounds to lose next year.)
John dressed differently than other people in his day. He wore a garment made of camel’s hair and tied a leather belt around his waist. He dressed like the Old Testament prophet Elijah because he wanted people to know that these were special days. You can also dress in ways that witness to the world that these are special days. One way to do this is to dress liturgically. As you can see, the main color of Advent is purple. If you have purple outfits or ties, now is their season.
By the way, this Wednesday, December 8th, is a holy day of obligation and Christ is asking you to attend the worldwide feast in honor of His immaculately conceived mother. On such a day, intentionally wearing blue or white would honor her. Try dressing liturgically and you’ll find that it reminds you and others of what makes these days special.
What came from the lips of John was different, and despite the large crowds, whatever he spoke was not for himself but for Christ. This year, wish people “merry Christmas” instead of “seasons greetings,” and instead of “happy holidays,” say “happy holy days,” for by this you give witness to the true reason for the season.
John knew that he must decrease and that Christ must increase, for John himself was not the light but had come to give testimony to the light. In the world, the Christmas songs have already begun on the radio and the Christmas trees are all up and lit in the malls, but the day after Christmas their songs will stop and their decorations will be taken down. But as the world is packing Christ away for another year, the Church is just beginning its celebration. You know the “twelve days of Christmas?” On Christmas day, the twelve day begin, not end. Like Easter, the Church celebrates not just one day, but for weeks after.
This year, let Advent be Advent, and save Christmas for Christmas. Sing Advent songs for Advent, and (as much as possible) save Christmas carols for their time. I suggest leaving your Christmas lights, on your tree and on your house, unlit during Advent. Then, when you plug-in at last on Christmas Eve, you shall enjoy a joyful sign that the light of the world has come.
St. John the Baptist calls to you through the Scriptures. I encourage you here, before you. And I hope the Holy Spirit is now prompting you, in your hearts and minds, to keep Advent as Advent this year, and to prayerfully prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas more profoundly than you ever have before.