Some things are a delight to listen to. Then there’s John the Baptist.
“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,
‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.'”
~ Matthew 3:1-2
There are certain sounds in this world that make listening a pure joy. I have my favorites: Garrison Keillor’s buttery voice on public radio; the pure brass tones of Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man; Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk; anything by the Avett Brothers. Some things are a delight to listen to.
Then there’s John the Baptist.
This wild-eyed, wild-haired, hellfire-and-brimstone Nazarite is anything but delightful. And yet all four Gospels report that the people flocked to him in droves from what we know today as Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan. Think about it. Jews and Arabs standing elbow-to-elbow because, as Fred Craddock put it, when the gospel is being offered you tend to forget why it is you hate the person standing next to you.
Meeting John the Baptist is about as much fun as walking through a body scanner at airport security. So why in the world would all these incompatible, barely-speaking-to-each-other people leave home, hike all the way out to nowhere and let themselves be devoured by sand fleas in order to hear an uncivilized oddball holler at them for hours about getting right with God?
Maybe because for all his eccentricities, poor grooming, scorching rhetoric and horrible bedside manner, John brings them face-to-face with the moment they’ve both craved and feared most: the opportunity for a do-over. A chance to come clean. The hope of a fresh start.
I have a friend in his 60s, a rugged, burly, brilliant guy who looks a little like the Marlborough Man from the old cigarette commercials. Decades ago he graduated from an elite university in the East, then moved to Texas to work on a graduate degree. But somewhere along the way he became addicted to crack cocaine. Lost his family; lost his place in graduate school; lost big pieces of himself.
Providentially this man washed up cold and wet on the shores of our church. We did what Christ-followers do and put our arms around him. Gradually he began to find life again and, miracle of miracles, was even reunited with his wife. My husband and I had them over to our place one night for supper.
As we lingered over coffee and dessert the man began to open up; talked about where his life was going. “I want to believe that my best days aren’t behind me,” he said. “I want to believe my life can still be good for something. I just can’t help but feel like I’ve blown all my best chances.”
That’s when his wife—a lovely, sixty-ish, bohemian Texas flower child—grabbed his hand and said with conviction: “Baby…if God can yank Jesus out of a grave, I figure God can make something beautiful out of your busted parts.”
With John the Baptist it may feel sometimes as though he’s the one busting our parts. But his message comes down to the same good news: Repent. The kingdom of heaven has come near.
This devotional originally appeared at http://www.nextsunday.com. NextSunday Resources, an imprint of Smyth & Helwys Publishing Inc., is a free press focusing on “quality Bible study and church resources that celebrate the intelligence of learners, the devotion of teachers, and the mission of churches everywhere.”