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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Go Meet John the Baptist

Robert Barron - Go Meet John the Baptist

Robert Barron - Go Meet John the Baptist
TOPICS: Advent

Peace be with you. Friends, on the Second Sunday of Advent, the Church gives us the great Advent figure of John the Baptist. Can I give you an image now to meditate on during Advent? Go online and look up "Chartres Cathedral north porch statue of John the Baptist". When I was a doctoral student in Paris, I went to Chartres as often as I could. Loved the place. And that's one of my favorite images, is on the outside of the cathedral. There's something about just the poignancy and the longing in his expression, you'll see when you look it up, that to me always speaks of Advent.

So keep that image in mind, and let's see what the Gospel tells us about John the Baptist, because all the details, I think, are important to enter into a spirituality of Advent. First of all, he makes his appearance in the desert. How often great figures in the Bible spend at least some time in the desert. Jesus himself, of course. What is it about deserts? Now, it's a desert people, that's true, but it wasn't nothing but desert. I mean, they made a conscious effort to move into these places. How come? I've always felt it was Blaise Pascal who gave us the best explanation. Pascal said, most of us, most of the time, divert ourselves.

We distract ourselves from the great questions about God and about life and about meaning and about death and about sin and grace. All the great questions. We engage in what he called in his French "divertissements," diversions. Pascal himself, by the way, loved to gamble. This brilliant man, he spent way too much of his life in these sort of idle games. Well, most of us do. Most of us do most of the time. We distract ourselves from these great questions. Deserts are places of no distractions, when we get down to spiritual basics with nothing to divert us from the great questions. And so it's in the desert that John the Baptist meets us. Advent is meant to be, now, not maybe quite at the level of Lent, but it's similar here to Lent, it's meant to be a desert time, to strip things away purposely and consciously to ask the great questions, the most elemental of which, "How do I stand with God"?

Last week I spoke about Isaiah's mountain. Is God and the worship of God the highest mountain in your life? Is it? How do you stand with God? How do you stand with God? "Oh, I'm worried about my job, and my family, and about entertainment, and about going here, and about traveling, and about the airport, and..." Yeah, yeah. I know, I know. But those are all ultimately divertissements. That's all distractions. Go into the desert, meet John the Baptist there, and ask the fundamental question. Okay, what's the Baptist's theme? Repent. Reform. "Metanoeite" is what he says in the Greek.

Jesus echoes that too in his inaugural address in the Gospel of Mark. That's what he says: metanoeite. It means literally, the Greek implies, "Go beyond the mind you have". Change your way of thinking, change your way of seeing. How do you assess the world? What do you prioritize? It's probably wrong, because he's addressing all of us sinners. And so, change. Change your mind, change your mentality, change your perspective. And what should you do? Well, listen to him. "The reign of God is at hand".

What's the reign of God? Wrong question, actually. For Christians, who is the reign of God? John the Baptist is pointing his audience toward not a new state of affairs exactly, not an idea, not a new political arrangement, not a, even, religious reform. He's directing his audience toward someone, the one that Origen called the "autobasileia," the kingdom and person. In Jesus, divinity and humanity have met. In Jesus, heaven and earth have come together. In Jesus, God's will is done on earth as in heaven. In Jesus, this new way of being has appeared. And so, John the Baptist says to those who've come into the desert, they've left behind their distractions, they've come into the desert, and he says, "All right, wake up, repent, reform; change your mind; open your eyes that you might see this new state of affairs, this new kingdom, this person of Jesus".

You know, everybody, in a way, for the last two thousand years, that's all the Church has been saying. In a variety of cultures across the centuries, in a thousand different languages, that's what the Church keeps saying. "Look. Repent. Change your mind. Open your eyes that you might see Jesus". Well, there's Advent for you. Go into the desert. Leave behind the diversions, the distractions. Look. Look at him. Look at him. And then we hear, listen, "Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him as they confessed their sins". It's a lovely image, isn't it?

Here's John the Baptist, and he's described wearing animal skins and eating grasshoppers. And I always think of that depiction of him in Zeffirelli's "Jesus of Nazareth": this wild figure. Look at the Chartres statue, too. There's some of that, the emaciated quality of John the Baptist. But to this weird figure, they come in great numbers. They stream toward this strange, alarming, disturbing character. Now, why? Why? To confess their sins. Here's something, everybody. It's a dilemma in a way. It's a puzzle. The years I was coming of age in the Catholic Church, the years after Vatican II, we deemphasized sin. The stress was placed on God's goodness and God's grace. And all that's terrific of course.

I've said to you a million times: grace comes first. Don't begin the spiritual life with sin. That gets you off on a bad foot. Grace comes first. However, I don't know any serious figure in the Bible who doesn't come to grips with our sin. There is something attractive about confessing our sins. See, because the culture will tell us in a thousand ways, "You're okay. Everything's fine". It makes excuses for us. It wishes sin away. It thinks sin away. It comes up with all sorts of justifications for it. I know, I know. And I'm susceptible to those suggestions from the culture. But don't listen to those voices.

There's something profoundly healing, and we know it, because deep down we know we're sinners, we know all is not right with us, and there's something very profoundly healing about being able to confess our sins. You want to hear a tragedy, everybody? I mean, happened in my lifetime. Prior to Vatican II, Catholics in huge numbers went to confession. Now, mind you, I'm not blaming Vatican II for this. I'm not blaming the council. But the years that I was coming of age, and talk to priests of a certain age, they'll tell you this, it didn't gradually dissipate. Confession went like this. It just fell off the table almost overnight. Nobody came to confession.

"Oh, that's good, isn't it"? No, it's not good. It's not good. "Hey, we're stressing God's grace". Well, terrific, but it's not good if we're not confessing our sin, because we're not being spiritually honest. And mind you, watch the culture. All the different ways that people are seeking an outlet for confession, trying to find an avenue to confess their sins. Now, talking to therapists and psychologists and judges, think of all those judging shows that we have. We've got a hunger to confess our sins, as they streamed to John the Baptist in the desert. So, today, we should still stream toward the Lord so that we can have the soul-healing moment of confessing our sins.

So, can I suggest to everybody listening to me? Go to confession this Advent. It's a great way, the best way, to prepare for Christmas. The best way to enter the desert, to climb Isaiah's mountain, to wake up. Best way to do it. Stream to a confessional. It's good for the soul. It always has been. You know, as I've mentioned to you before, I think of some of the twelve-step programs which have been so powerful for so many people dealing with addiction. You tell someone in the twelve-step process, "Hey, you're fine. Hey, don't get hung up on what's wrong with you. You're doing great".

Give me a break. In the twelve-step process, people are urged to do a searching moral inventory. They're urged to confess what's gone wrong with their lives. That's soul-healing stuff. And it's very important during Advent. Well, with that in mind, now listen to some of these images associated with John the Baptist. He says, "Even now the ax is laid to the root of the tree. Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire". Oh, that's terrible. How frightening, that language.

Well, yeah, yeah. Now why? Well, talk to any gardener, anyone that knows how to make things grow. Sometimes you've got to prune plants so that they might grow. You're not trying to kill the plant. In fact, you're trying to save it. You leave a plant or a flower or something completely unattended, what will happen? It will die. "Oh no, I'm not here to cause pain to that poor plant". Yeah, but then it won't live.

Are there things in us, and fellow sinners, I'm right about this, are there things in us that need pruning? Our cruelty and hatred, and our violence, and our pride, and our envy, and our anger, and all the deadly sins? You bet. So good. The ax is laid to the root of the tree. Every tree that's not fruitful will be cut down. That means everything in me that's not fruitful for life, the Lord wants to cut that away. Good, good. Good time for it, Advent.

And then this: "The winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor". The winnowing fan was like a rake. And what they would do is, the threshing floor was just like a flat area, and they'd bring the grain and they'd throw it on the threshing floor. And then, with this rake, on a windy day, they'd throw it up in the air so that the chaff would blow away. And then, in this process of lifting up and the wind blowing, you'd separate wheat from chaff. Okay?

That was the idea. I'm sure, talk to farmers around Minnesota right now, there's a much more sophisticated way to do it. But in Jesus' time, that's how they did it. But it's a beautiful image, isn't it, of spiritual cleansing. Jesus comes into your life and he shakes things up. He's not going to leave you as you are. He's not. He wants to separate. So, the one image is he's going to want to cut things away, but here he wants to separate wheat from chaff. And what's life-giving in you and beautiful in you he wants to separate out from what's dragging you down. And that's going to be a little upsetting. Like, "Oh! Stop throwing me up. Stop throwing my life up for grabs".

But that's how you do it. And I always think of the wind. It's the wind of the Holy Spirit that blows away the chaff from your life. Advent's a great time for that. Let the Lord do that work. And then finally, the Baptist says, "I baptize you with water, but the one who will follow will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire". Fire, of course, is the great biblical image of illumination, but also of purification. But baptizing you not just with water, but "baptize you in the Holy Spirit". That means the love that God is.

See, we're not just playing around here with this. This Christian business is very serious business. It's not just about making us morally better. I mean, great. I hope you are morally better at the end of Advent. But it wants so much more than that. The Church wants to divinize you, to divinize you, to draw you into the divine life. That's what Advent's finally about, that you might welcome Christ who wants to live in you. So, on the Second Sunday of Advent, let John the Baptist work his way into your psyche a little bit. Go back to that Chartres image, look it up on the web, and let John the Baptist. He's laying the ax to the root of the tree. Okay. He's announcing the one that's coming with the winnowing fan. Fair enough. Let him do his work. And God bless you.
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