John the Baptist is one unique Advent character. Eating grasshoppers. No showering. No shaving. No wardrobe to speak of. Screaming and name calling. Wow… What a guy.
I have always thought that if I saw him coming down the street, I would make my way to the other side or duck into a store or ally or anything just to avoid him. Yet our Church, Jesus Himself, have labeled him the greatest of prophets, the greatest man ever born. So what is it about John that they know over and above this image of a wild man dressed in camel hair traipsing around in the scorching desert sun?
We could say that John was a truth teller, that he was incredibly brave, outspoken, a man devoted to God. But above all of that, what makes John so memorable is the simple fact that he knew, that he recognized who Jesus was. John yelled a lot about God’s love and forgiveness, but when he saw Jesus he knew he was looking God’s love and forgiveness right in the eye. In the presence of Jesus all his words took shape, took form. He recognized not just another prophet, not just another guru, not just another shaman, he recognized the Incarnation – God in the flesh.
The joy of Christmas is the Incarnation. It is the fact that God’s love is so great that he stoops down to be on our level. John tells us he is not worthy enough to untie Jesus’ shoe but God stoops down to untie ours. Emmanuel – God is with us, God gets us, loves us, chooses us, forgives us. That is the joy of Christmas. God is not just God, he’s our God. That realization by John is what makes him so great.