Learning to Face Doubt and Fear from John the Baptist
Advent’s Promise: Jesus is Enough
Just before Christmas in the church's year, we remember John the Baptist. He carries forward the promises made to the patriarchs and the visions of the prophet to the time of Jesus’ appearance in public life and the message that God’s Kingdom is finally here. It says much that we remember such a person around the same time of year we hear the Christmas story. This reminds is that the Christmas story is not a comfortable one, whatever we do with Christmas Trees, cards and presents.
John the Baptist: An Extraordinary Man
John the Baptist might seem like an extraordinary man, incredibly holy and far removed from our ordinary experience of being a Christian. As we meet him in the Advent stories perhaps we think he was without any doubt or fear. It is certainly true that John is unique, with the indispensable and essential role in the Gospel story.
A Special Purpose
John fulfils a very special purpose as the one who tells the world that the Messiah had arrived and that Jesus is enough. He obviously preached about being baptised, and many people flocked to experience this strange new form of spiritual cleansing. And he preached about repentance and the judgment of God on wickedness – and John the Baptist didn’t mince his words! (See Luke 3:7-9 for a taste).
Extraordinary But Very Human
All this, combined with his life in the wilderness, eating locusts and honey, dressed in camel hide can make John seem forbidding, even scary, setting a standard that no one could possibly live up to. But John is in fact much more human than this, even with all the special things about him.
John the Baptist Could have Doubt and Fear – Just Like Us
Because we read elsewhere in the Gospels that John too had moments of doubt and fear. He ends up in prison, and sends people to ask if Jesus really is the Messiah; is Jesus really enough; is there was someone else to come? Even though he had baptised Jesus, even though his whole role was to point to Jesus as the Messiah, in prison, John began to question, began perhaps to wonder if he had made a terrible mistake.
And we know that the story ends badly for John the Baptist, beheaded as a result of a foolish promise foolishly kept (see Mark 6:14-29 for details). All a tragic anti-climax for a man described by Jesus as the greatest ever born of a woman!
God Never Promised It Would Be Easy - we all face doubt and fear
This serves as the reminder, that we all sometimes need, that being a disciple of Jesus is not a guarantee of a life without problems and that bad things can and do happen to people who do the right thing.
But Jesus is Enough
It is also a reminder that Jesus can handle our doubts, our fears, our desperation. We don’t become any less beloved, any less precious because we face a struggle. We are still inheritors of a kingdom that cannot be destroyed and the Messiah has indeed come.
This doesn’t mean our problems go away, but it does mean we can trust God has not abandoned us. We face an uncertain future, I pray that you will hear once again that same good news, that Jesus really is God’s chosen one.
May we all have the courage of John the Baptist to proclaim the truth about Jesus and the courage to be honest about fears when we are afraid. For Jesus is enough. He was born one of us. God knows what it is to be human.
On Easter Day this same Jesus was raised from the dead. If we allow our eyes to make the journey from the manger at Bethlehem to the empty cave in Jerusalem we can face and overcome doubt and fear.