In his response to John, Jesus speaks of hope in the present tense.
John the Baptist
“If we don’t understand the Judaism of Jesus’ time, how can we understand him and his message?”
No one from the outside can fully grasp the inner workings of any marriage. Even those inside sometimes find themselves lonely and strangers.
“I’m a Christian,” said my oldest daughter, seven-year-old Miriam. “Really?” I replied. “So what makes you believe that you are a Christian?” “Because I love God, God loves me, and I know Jesus came back to life after dying on the cross.”
John the Baptist is an acquired taste, like roquefort. He’s complex. He is an amalgamation of unanswered questions: Is he a zealot acting out the Exodus as a kind of political comedy sketch? Is he the leader of a rival faith community, a serious threat to the fledgeling Jesus movement? Is he a kind of Enkidu figure—a fugitive of our collective consciousness from the epic Gilgamesh—who crawls out of the wilderness, learns our ways well enough and then attempts to wrestle and pin our society to the ground, only to be admired briefly and then destroyed? Whatever John is, he’s not easy to put on a cracker.
I'm afraid I want the good news of Christmas without the challenge.
Isaiah and the Baptizer conspire to give us animal dreams in this dark season of Advent. The earlier prophet’s vision warms our hearts. Who among us hasn’t yearned for a world in which lambs could hang out with wolves and adders behave as though Mr. Rogers had taught them how to play with children? A strange political critter appears in the dream as well, one that’s not the puppet of pollsters and the powerful, but a leader with the heart and Spirit of God.
Few know blindness so profoundly as prisoners who once could see the whole world but now find the universe shrunk to the size of a cell. Inmates hear only what jailers allow, most often some version of “We own you.” As for music, the rhythm of one’s own pulse must suffice, and that hardly leads to dancing. One can even forget how to walk.
People who introduce themselves as bearing a message from God do not commend themselves to us easily. If we do turn an ear to them out of curiosity, or perhaps out of an amused and sometimes horrified fascination, they tend to wear out their welcome quickly. We have learned only too well that such self-styled messengers of God can carry out deeds of unimaginable ferocity in the name of their particular vision of God.
I cherish the vision of what could have been a great moment in American poetry. One day my American literature professor told our class about Emily Dickinson, the quiet and reclusive woman who was satisfied to live in a circumscribed world in Amherst, Massachusetts.