I love to sleep. I have loved to sleep for as long as I can remember. I never cared much about Saturday cartoons as a child. I never particularly liked breakfast. I preferred to sleep through all of those things.
But my parents swear that there was a time in which I never slept, pretty much from birth until eighteen months. My younger sister, Sara, on the other hand, slept all the time as an infant. She was one of those quote un-quote perfect babies. So when Sara had baby, my niece Addalie, two weeks ago, we were all hoping that she would take after her mother. Unfortunately for Sara and her husband, their newborn seems to be more like me. My sweet niece doesn’t sleep much at all, and she certainly does not sleep at night. I am positive that my sister is telling the truth about this, because I spent one night last week with the baby so her parents could rest.
At about two AM, I was tired enough that my thoughts started to wander. I began thinking about my niece, wondering what she would be like in a year, or two years, or sixteen years. Would she have my sister’s curly hair and ability to sing? Would she take after her aunt and have a terrible allergy to mold? Would she be more like Bradley’s family – have qualities that I don’t even really know about? This precious child has been born with so many questions left unanswered - we will all have to wait and see in order to know what she will become, who she will be.
Most people come into our lives with these question marks. Throughout our lives we meet new people. Some of them become our husbands, wives, life-long friends. We sometimes know things about people before we meet them – sometimes we have heard stories or anecdotes that convince us to be someone’s roommate our freshman year of college or go on a blind date. And sometimes, we are introduced to people by a mutual friend.
For scores of people in Judea and Jerusalem, John the Baptist was the person that introduced them to Jesus. John the Baptist appeared on the scene to make sure that everyone would know Jesus before he arrived. Wearing his strange clothing and eating his strange food, John went forth proclaiming that all should “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” for the
“one who was more powerful than John was coming…to baptize the people with fire and the Holy Spirit.” He told everyone he encountered that they had to change their lives, had to confess their sins and repent, before they encountered Christ.
That order of things is certainly familiar to us. We confess our sins each week before we encounter Christ in the Eucharist. But imagine how confusing this must have been for those who had never heard about Jesus at all. To be told that you needed to change your life, right the wrongs you have been doing, and to be told that by someone wearing strange clothing and eating bugs? How impossibly strange would that be?
Almost as impossibly strange, perhaps, as trying to digest John the Baptist’s words today. After all, for most of us, this is hardly the time to be thinking through all of the things we do and trying to decide what we need to change, what we need to confess, how we need to repent. Instead, this is the time of year to spend a couple hours online designing a Christmas card, spend a couple more hours waiting in lines to buy presents or groceries, spend our last few hours wrapping and packing to make sure we are ready for the flurry of excitement and activity that is the holiday season.
Self-reflection? Prayers? Who has time for that? After all, it will be Lent soon enough, and Lent offers plenty of opportunities to do those things. And yet, we, like those Judean residents so many years ago, are being called to make straight the way for the Lord. John the Baptist is calling upon us to pull our lives together, find the things that we need to change and act on them. Lucky for us, this season has a tendency to bring out the worst in some of us – making it all the more easy to see where we might need to make a few changes.
And we do this all in preparation for Christmas – the time in which the world first met Jesus Christ as a small baby in a manger. A baby that surely, upon first glance, seemed just like any other baby. And yet he would in fact become the person that would change the world.
What if we all took this time to remember that we, too, were once babies. We were all once very small people with very large question marks. Nobody knew if we would be the ones to cure a dread disease or become President or be willing to host the family for Christmas. Nobody knew if we would be the ones to adopt angels off the Clarence tree or if we would be the ones needing to be adopted. By now, I know it seems that many of our question marks have probably been answered. But this passage today stands as a reminder to us all that it is not too late to change some of those answers. It’s not too late to straighten ourselves out and make changes for the better. It’s not too late to find new questions in our lives and do our best to answer them while following Christ.
For myself, there is no way that I will ever have a hit song on the radio. I am pretty sure we can rule out curing a disease, too. And being an Olympic athlete. And well, frankly, a lot of things. But there are still so many questions left unanswered – about what kind of aunt I will be, and wife, and parent. Will I be the person that invites my in-laws, and my sister’s in-laws, and just about anyone to Christmas? Will I be the person who declines receiving a gift from my aunt and instructs her to buy an alternative giving card instead? Will I be willing to take stock of my life during this season and figure out how to give more of myself to the things that delight God and bring me life? Hopefully, I will. And, hopefully, you will too. ‘Tis the season, after all. AMEN.