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According to today’s gospel, Jewish officials and Pharisees from Jerusalem sent representatives to John the Baptist as he was baptizing in the Jordan River near Jericho asking “Who are you?” “Are you the Messiah, Elijah, the Prophet?” “Why are you baptizing?”
John the Baptist is an interesting figure in the gospels. He’s a strong figure who knew who he was and who he was not and wasn’t afraid to be the person God wanted him to be. “I’m not the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet,” John answers. “I am the voice crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. ’”
John knew who he was. He could have said he was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Zechariah, John’s father, was a priest in the temple of Jerusalem who surely expected his son to follow him as a priest. That was an important religious role in Judaism which was handed down from father to son.
But John chose a different course. God led him another way. He didn’t follow his father into the temple as a priest. We don’t know when, but John went down to the Jordan Valley where the road ascended to Jerusalem, and preached and baptized the crowds going up to Jerusalem to the temple of the Lord. The clothes he wore, his style of life set him apart from everyone else.
John doesn’t seem to care how he looked or what people thought of him. He certainly didn’t choose an easy place to be, a desert place. There’s a strength and determination in John that later Jesus himself praised.
John was what God called him to be, and he wasn’t afraid to speak the truth. He had a voice for God, even if he sounds at times like a drill sergeant getting people ready for the battle of the last days. He said unpopular things to powerful people and faced the consequences. Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee and Perea, arrested him and put him to death.
Jesus admired John the Baptist for being who he was.
It’s so important to be who we are and who God calls us to be, isn’t it? I suppose that’s one of the graces of our Advent season. It reminds us that Jesus Christ came into this world for a reason, but we are reminded too that we came into this world for a reason. We have our unique gifts and should recognize them. We have been given a voice to speak as God would have us speak, and we should use it.
Who are you? Why are you doing the things you’re doing? Those are wonderful questions. “Who am I? And what am I doing with my life?”