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December 4, 2016
Have you ever wondered why it is so important for there to be a forerunner for Jesus? Why is John the Baptist such an important part of our tradition? In other words, what did he do that is so important for our salvation? In the gospel today, we find John the Baptist doing his work. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ is what he says to the people who come to see him. Look at that phrase and it begins to reveal something to you. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. God’s presence is near. Salvation, the promise of a new and better life is within your grasp. It is at this point that we see why John the Baptist is a necessary part of our tradition. All that God offers us has but one requirement on our part and this is what John shows; one must repent if one is to recognize the kingdom of God. Repentance is more than feeling sorrow for sins, although sorrow for sin is an essential part. Repentance is a totally new way of looking at one’s own life and one’s relationship with others. That’s not as easy as it may seem. What it means is that you and I must look at our lives with brutal honesty and reevaluate our priorities and principles. John’s words to the Pharisees and Sadducees say as much. The Pharisees and Sadducees were convinced that they were living correctly. John warns them that their lives must show change if the kingdom of God will be open for them. Like all foundational events of our faith, the reality of John’s words are grounded in a historical situation. The words of John, as well as the words and actions of Jesus and his apostles are not mythic but real events; they are grounded in history. As living tradition, those realities are just as present to us as to those who heard them historically. The role of John as forerunner is therefore not over; he speaks to us as to those who were looking for a messiah so long ago. So what is John really saying to us? As the forerunner of Christ, he is asking if we are teachable. Are we willing to set aside the comfortable ways of thinking we have and take the risk of listening to something new? The life that Christ brought into the world is marvelous indeed. If it is to be more than feel good stories we tell at this time of year then we must continually seek to understand more and more what this life in Christ means. It means that we reevaluate the practicalities of our lives that make us comfortable and seek to put into practice the principles of living that Christ revealed. This is no easy task. Each of us has opinions. We have opinions of politics, morality and other issues in our world. People also form opinions of religion and it is easy to equate our opinions of God as revealed truth. That was the cause of confrontation between John and the Pharisees and Sadducees. The challenge of John must ring in our ears as well those people of long ago. Are we really willing to repent, to rethink the opinions we hold and the way we live so that we can embrace the life that Christ teaches? The kingdom of God is at hand right now, will you repent, will you be open to seeing reality in the way John shows so that you can be a part of the kingdom he announces? The kingdom of God is at hand. Will you allow yourself to be taught every day what it means?