Today’s Bible reading

He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. –Luke 1:15

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.–Matthew 3:4-5

More thoughts for meditation

John’s life exemplified the discomfort of our Advent wait. Holding this tension, straining our eyes and necks to see the light of transformation, waiting up all night and losing sleep, holding on with all our might — these are all physically exhausting tasks. And even if our physically exhausting Advent waiting is more of a metaphor than a reality, the metaphor is apt for our spiritual condition, no?

John did not drink any fermented drink. He was not a man of levity it seems. He didn’t look to alcohol to lighten the mood or shroud his discomfort in anyway. If he was uncomfortable there was a reason for it and he wanted to listen to it. The angel decreed his sobriety to Zechariah before he was born. John’s mind was completely clear; his vitality was one hundred percent available for the Lord’s use.

Camel’s hair and a leather belt not only served as a direct reference to John’s prophetic mold, Elijah, it was also uncomfortable. The fine camel hair coats that polo players wear from finely spun yarn had not yet been invented. John’s camel hair was a sign of his poverty to those from whom he lived an intentionally distinct lifestyle, and perhaps even a sign to his own body that comfort was not his aim in his intentionally distinct life.

His chosen dwelling with its diet of wild locusts and honey also made plenty of room for God to speak. John spent his life carving out huge spaces for waiting and listening in the desert. His confidence in preaching came from a life uncluttered by comfort. Something about John’s discomfort taught him what he needed to say.

Not all of us are called to the ascetic lifestyle. Asceticism is the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention for religious reasons. It’s no wonder that asceticism is almost universal across cultures and religions. It is a human fact that abstaining creates states of heightened spiritual attunement. When we overcome our needs for material comfort we are more ready for spiritual comfort, maybe? When we are empty in body we are empty and open to God, maybe? The geography of the soul is not precisely mapped, but in Advent country we know we can learn from our discomfort, 

Suggestions for action

Advent was initially conceived as another fast– more like the Lent with which many of us are more familiar. Might there be an invitation to abstain from something in your waiting this year? John’s uncomfortable life ended with externally inflicted suffering in a prison cell and an executioner’s axe, but it began internally with his choice to live a life worthy of his calling. He went to the desert, an away, empty place. He ate food that did the trick of keeping him alive and little more, a way to amplify his spiritual hunger. He wore clothing designed to remind him and others of someone else, a way to point attention away from himself. He abstained from alcohol, a way to be as open to God as possible. How will you prepare the way for the Lord with some of John’s intensity? Skip a meal, skip a cookie, skip the purchase for yourself as you’re shopping for others?  Definitely skip the drink! If this is resonating with you, you should probably make a plan to do something about it. Tell a friend if you conclude. They will help you fulfill your vow.

Pray: Lord, open my eyes wide to your presence now. Use the empty spaces in my time, heart and body to reveal your way.