Wouldn’t seem like Advent without John the Baptist. He’s the loud speaker who reminds us to prepare the way of the Lord. We all sort of straighten up, think about our past and wonder how best to prepare.
The world pulls us one way and John the Baptist points in another direction. For example, the first signs of Christmas are the streetlights, the mall decorations, the selling of trees. John the Baptist would not have understood any of our concerns for decorations of streets, or front yards or house roofs. He would have looked at us eye-to-eye and asked, “Are you prepared inside?” “Are you ready for the Messiah?” Again, much of our energy is spent on writing cards, buying gifts, getting food for the guests. Customs dictate our behavior. Children have grown to expect the surprise of what is left under the tree by Santa Claus. Mistletoe, eggnog, smells of cinnamon promotes the mood of nostalgia and expectation. There is something special about Christmas which usually brings out the best in all of us. But then when company leaves, the decorations are put away and the bills need to be paid, we all just go back to the “same old”, “same old”. The reason is because not much changes inside. Therein lies the challenge of John the Baptist. External changes can be superficial. Habits, routines, how we dress—all that stuff can be adjusted without too much effort. A change of attitude is difficult to accomplish.
Our attitudes betray how we view reality. Most of them are formed during developmental years. Our parents have much influence on our attitudes. For example, if we think that stealing is a sin—the amount is not important, whether we steal a penny or a million dollars—stealing will always be bad. When we learn to treat others with respect, their level of education is not important, if they are beggars on the street or a person has fine clothes—all people will be respected. If on the other hand we think that cheating is allowed as long as we don’t get caught, then we will be deceitful every chance we get. Attitudes are indeed difficult to change, but change is possible; otherwise we would not have free will. Unlike animals that act on instinct, we have the power to rationalize—to discern and consider the consequences of our actions. There is no such thing as “the devil made me do it.” We always have the power to choose—even with a gun pointed to our head.
Many of the martyrs chose to die rather than to betray the Faith. Peer pressure is the name of the disease that infects so many, particularly young people. Even when we know that something is evil, because everybody is looking and what are my “friends” going to think? Will my “friends” still like me if I refuse? True friends do not ask us to commit sins! Lots of folks defend themselves by saying, “everybody’s doing it”. How can we fight the majority? How can one person be different? John the Baptist was the voice of one and he made a difference! People listened. The authority figures that did not want change listened. King Herod listened. John dared to tell the King that he was living in adultery. John’s mouth got him killed; but he never stopped speaking the truth. Peer pressure did not matter to him. The words John spoke reach out to us. Prepare—make straight—get ready for the Christ.
Rather than getting caught up in the wave of outward appearance we are challenged to make an interior change. Starts by opening our heart to the truth of who we are. If change is necessary, Our Lord will help us to get ready.