I have always had a soft spot for John the Baptist. I love his story: his strident proclamation of the light that is to come, his unconventional approach (camel hair, anyone?), his incredulity and humility at being asked to baptise Christ. In today’s passage (John 1.19-28) we see John being interrogated by the representatives of the Pharisees, demanding to know who he is. This is one of those passages I can’t read without hearing music in my head, in this case The Record of John by Orlando Gibbons:
I love the emphatic way John corrects people’s assumptions about who he is. He refuses to let his ministry be defined by anyone else’s expectations. He ministers on the edge, outside the categories people expect, following God’s unique call for him. He must have had moments when he wondered where God was leading him. Certainly he was sometimes amazed at what was asked of him, as when Jesus came to him for baptism. But whatever pressure he came under, and even facing death, he refused to be swayed from his mission.
I think all of us can learn something from John’s radically counter-cultural way of being. Something about refusing to be defined by what people expect, refusing to limit how God might use us. And perhaps then we too can become that voice crying in the wilderness “make straight the way of the Lord”, even as we heed that call in our own observance of Advent.