I wonder what was going on in Palestine at the time of John the Baptist. Mark tells us that people from the Judean hill country and people from Jerusalem itself came out to listen to this strange preacher who came in out of the desert. Maybe there was at that time a general discontent with the way things were going. The oppressive Roman occupation didn’t make life easier. Graft and exploitation were part of life and life was hard unless you belonged to the rich and the powerful. It seems that true religious leadership was lacking and maybe the ordinary person has a sense that he/she lost their spiritual values, they were indifferent, uncaring about their ancient traditions and took for granted their relationship with God. Maybe there was a common consciousness of dissatisfaction with the way things were going. Maybe the ordinary struggling person was convinced that there’s got to be a better way, there had to be something better than the way things were and they were willing to listen to anyone who gave them the hope that things were meant to be different.
Then this stranger comes out of the desert calling people to get their act together. John’s message was not a soothing message. He called everyone, rich or poor, slave or free, to examine the way they lived their lives, especially the way they treated one another. John’s message was a message of hope; surely people had to change and if they made those effort things would be better. And hopeful people flocked to John as he called them back to basics.
I wonder if we as individuals, we as church, and we as a society might be reaching that critical mass of discontent with the way things are in our lives today. Hopefully the ‘occupy’ movements around the world can bring us to that critical mass of discontent with the unfair distribution of the world’s wealth and resources. Markets are up and down like a toilet seat. There is so much economic uncertainty. Ordinary people are facing lay offs and cut backs in their pensions. World governments will not face the reality of climate change, and are unwilling to make the changes necessary for the healing of Earth. The mindset is short term gain, read profit, let others worry about the long term pain. Time and again we’ve seen people in positions of trust who with giant salaries and rigged deals loot their companies as shamelessly as Third World dictators looted their impoverished countries.
Every year during this time of Advent we are offered an opportunity to examine and evaluate the way we live our lives as individuals, as church, as society. We are called to have the courage to stir up a holy discontent and a desire to make a difference in the way we live our lives.
The challenge of Advent is to clear a straight path for God: to end injustices and be more conscious of the needs of those less privileged than ourselves, to stop wars and the preparations for wars, to put discrimination and prejudice behind us, or in the words of an ancient prayer, to remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy.