John the Baptist was not the guy you wanted at your Christmas party. You would have smelled him coming, his camel fur reeking of sweat and desert funk. Then he would have put his dirty hands in the …
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John the Baptist was not the guy you wanted at your Christmas party. You would have smelled him coming, his camel fur reeking of sweat and desert funk. Then he would have put his dirty hands in the appetizers, searching in vain for locusts drizzled with honey.
Worst of all, John only talked politics. He hollered until he was red in the face and had flecks of spittle in his unruly beard!
At such a time in our country, do we really need such a divisive figure? The hostility that our political parties have toward each other has spread to the shopping mall, the gym, the dinner table, and our communities of faith. The impeachment hearings have further polarized our country. And we are heading into an election year that promises to be hostile.
Still, every year John the Baptist shows up in Advent. He was the voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” And here’s the thing — people listened. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that people came to John from Jerusalem and all Judea, all the villages around the River Jordan (Matt 3:5). What was the allure?
John the Baptist preached a message that could be taken to heart by people of different backgrounds, cultures, even faiths. He preached that we must “bear fruit worthy of repentance” (Matt 3:8). It’s not just what we say or believe, but what we do and how we act. Even more than his questionable hygiene and starvation diet, John’s practice-what-you-preach message should make us uncomfortable...
But it is exactly what we need, for it would bring us together despite our differences that we might build community.
The lack of community is the source of our political gridlock and partisan rancor. I know social networking is supposed to connect us across cultures and countries. How can I be lonely if I have 1,509 Facebook friends and counting? In fact, survey after survey shows that adults and children alike are plagued by loneliness. Loneliness is not only harmful to our democracy...
Recent studies have proved that loneliness is actually more harmful to our health than smoking cigarettes. In Gaelic, the adjective “lonely” comes from the same root as the word for “grave.” The Irish intuited what science has proven — loneliness kills.
Long ago, people flocked to the River Jordan because they wanted to come alive again. It’s not just they wanted to be a part of the crowd. They wanted to be a part of a loving community. Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that, if we want to establish such beloved community, “this will require a qualitative change in our souls, as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” That is the fruit worthy of repentance.
So, I return to that idea of the Christmas party — who I have not invited to my house? The work of creating beloved communities starts now and begins with each of us. Loneliness kills. Love builds.
Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the poet pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and the author of the book Gently Between the Words.