I punched a zip code into the labyrinth locater. Jackpot! The search returned two labyrinths in Asheville, North Carolina. The first was at a Catholic church, but I wasn’t ready to step foot in one of those at this point in my life. The second was an outdoor labyrinth at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. It was a mere one-and-a-half mile walk from my temporary home. The next morning, I headed out in search of this circle of stones, eager to walk the labyrinth and hear what it had to tell me.
“I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
Such were the words of John the Baptist (John 1:26-27), the prophet who dedicated his life to a different kind of Advent: preparing as many people as he possibly could for the coming of the Messiah. After centuries of waiting, anticipation and prophecy, John was telling anybody who would listen that the time was nigh — Jesus, the Messiah, was very much here.
Even without that message, though, John would have in all likelihood had no trouble convincing people he was a little bit insane.
I like to think that when Jesus went out to the desert to see who exactly God had sent to stir up the crowds for his arrival, he saw John and, at least at first, kind of looked up to the sky as if to say, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” For those unfamiliar with John the Baptist, a few points: he snacked on locusts and honey, was generally unkempt and probably didn’t have the most refined preaching method. Also he wore shirts made of hair, something which made contemporary Palestinian fashionistas sneer.
But while John the Baptist’s role as the one who’d prepare people for Jesus may seem like questionable PR, he got the job done, and he did so humbly: When Jesus finally entered the public eye, John left it, not looking to capitalize on Jesus’ renown for his own interests. After all, he had hair shirts to weave and locusts to chew.
The role of a prophet is almost entirely thankless — you’re usually spreading some sort of message that requires great faith to believe in, usually in an environment where great faith is hard to come by. Oftentimes, prophets had to be convinced that she or he was the right person for the job. That was usually because he or she flat-out didn’t want to do the job. And John the Baptist, who didn’t…
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