“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him . . .” (Luke 1:76)
John the Baptist is one of the funny characters of scripture. He wears odd clothes, eats a strange diet, and when he opens his mouth, words come out that aren’t necessarily politically correct. He calls a spade a spade (or rather, he called sin, sin). Let’s just say he didn’t blend in with the crowd. He didn’t keep his head down on the way to market with the goal of slipping in and out in record time.
He had a mission, one he recognized while he was still in his mother’s womb:
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.'” (Luke 1:41-44)
The pre-born John worshiped the pre-born Christ by leaping in his mother’s womb. He made such a stir that his mother Elizabeth noticed. In other words, this wasn’t your usual turning over or kick.
And might this movement of his have prepared the way for Elizabeth to welcome Mary into her home? Remember, Mary came as an unmarried pregnant woman to Elizabeth, who could have easily dismissed her, chosen the way of the community and shamed her. But John’s mission, from the beginning, was to prepare the way for the Savior.
Every thing about his birth–his miraculous conception to ancient parents, his father’s vision in the temple and consequent muteness for disbelief, his receiving of a non-family name–was like a neon sign, flashing warning over Israel that something great was happening. Pay attention, Israel. Years of prophecy are about to explode into reality.
Some people got it, or at least understood that the baby John had a mission different than other children:
“The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, ‘What then is this child going to be?’ For the Lord’s hand was with him. (Luke 1:65-67)
They were filled with awe and wondered. I never had that response when toting my newborns around in public. John garnered a bundle of attention his entire life, especially when he started to preach repentance. He knew his mission, and eventually it killed him. The price for preparing the way? Death.
After a look at his life, we must ask the question: are we those who prepare the way for the Lord’s work? Are our life patterns and speech set apart so that others take note and listen? Are we those of whom others might say, “the Lord’s hand is with them”?
The initial work of preparing for the birth of Christ and his earthly ministry is done. But Christ is coming again, and those who are following him must now take on the prophetic role of John announcing this Good News.
It is not an easy mission, nor is it socially acceptable or politically correct. Not that we are called to be Jesus bullies (Paul states that our speech should be full of grace and seasoned with salt–an interesting combination). But because of the nature of the message we proclaim, we will often find ourselves in John’s situation. Standing out, sometimes awkwardly so.
Take heart, friends. The Gospel took on flesh and endured more than we ever will. For his sake, we can wear the camel hair and eat the grasshoppers. Let us be preparers for Christ.