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A JOHN THE BAPTIST FOR EVERYONE

Our Advent guide this Sunday is St. John the Baptist. And there are two pictures of St. John the Baptist that are familiar to our biblical and popular imagination. The first one shows John as the popular baptizer of people. He even baptized Jesus on the Jordan River. This is what we celebrate in many fiestas around the country when people drench each other with water to signify John’s vocation.

But the second picture of John the Baptist is of a preacher and let me qualify, an angry preacher! Yes, listen to his words: you brood of vipers – referring the to the Pharisees and scribes. He ruthlessly exposed their sins and shortcomings. He told them that like a useless, fruitless tree, they will be cut down.

But John was not angry just to threaten people or demean them. He was not a judgmental person branding negatively the faults he finds in others. Rather, he has a purpose, an aim in speaking shockingly to his audience. John deeply loved them that he wanted them to be converted to God. He wanted to lead them to Christ the true Lamb of God.

But John’s love is not the soft, pampering type of love. He exercises what we now call TOUGH LOVE. Tough love is difficult but it is a sign of deep concern for the welfare of others. Tough love does not always say yes because at times saying no means allowing people to learn lessons, to choose rightly, to walk the right path.

A wife may tell her husband: unless you stop drinking and start treating me with respect, you will not earn my support and love. A parent tells a child: if you keep failing your classes and keep hanging out with your friends, I will not enroll you again in school. A friend tells his friend: decide now to end this bad relationship or else I will expose you to your family.

That’s difficult to do. People will get hurt. They will get angry. They will even question your motivations. They will tell you to back off. That is why people would rather pamper the ones they love. They would rather tolerate actions even if these were harmful or deleterious to their loved ones. They are afraid of losing the trust and high esteem of people. But when we do this, are we truly loving them? Or are we just loving ourselves, our reputation or our own standing?

Like John the Baptist, we are challenged by the Lord today to be serious in bringing our loved ones to Jesus. This may entail shocking them, shaking them, waking them up to the reality of peril they are facing. Can you do that, out of love?

It is also good to remember the John the Baptist figures in our own experience. Who are the people who really care for us that they never cease to remind us, to call our attention to our mistakes, to invite us to take a second look at the things we do? Do we appreciate them and even thank them for being honest and frank, and courageous enough to do what they do? This Christmas let us be like John to others and let us salute the John the Baptist figures in our lives.