John the Baptizer and our ‘holy longing’
While reading the story of John the Baptist, I was reminded of the U2 song “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”. Since it’s release in 1987 it has been an inspirational song for millions and even though it has been played endless times in endless situations and borders on becoming trite, nevertheless, the power of the song continues. The reason, I think, is because it is speaking truth, getting as close as we can get to something that we all feel –1st century Jews as in John’s case, or 21st century Christians as in mine, or in fact any person who takes the time to think about their life. What the song elicits is this deep longing in all of us for something more, something deeper and richer and wilder and truer that we know is there.
Augustine wrote “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. It is this ‘holy longing’ that is in our being and that we hear in this song. This restlessness is part of our human condition – it is how we have been created. John Caputo comments on this longing in his book ‘On Religion’
“We all want to know who we are and what our lives are ‘about’ – that is our first, last and constant concern. That is the passion of our lives and it is a deeply religious passion. For better or worse…we do not simply live but we wonder why; for better or worse, we do not simply live but we dream of things that never have been and wonder why not… We are not content with life, with the limits that the present and the possible press upon us, but we strive and strain for something or other, we know not what… We seek but do not find, not quite, not if we are honest, which does not discourage the religious heart but drives it on and heightens the passion…(p. 18)
Baptizer John is pointing in this direction as well, and it is for this reason that the people are flocking out into the middle of nowhere to be confronted by this seemingly (or actual) wild man. They come because they are hoping to find something they can hold on to as they live their lives, longing for God. When they get there he tells them that they need to examine their lives and make things right – between themselves and God, and between themselves and their neighbours. John names this repentance. They are being invited to live lives that are moving in the same direction as God’s intentions. It isn’t a hell fire sermon but rather an invitation to live fully into God’s intentions.
‘You are waiting for the Kingdom of God to break into the world?’ John asks. ‘Still waiting for the Messiah? While you wait, start living as if the Messiah has already come.’ These are the ones who recognize their longing ‘whose hearts are restless looking for God’. These ones are invited get into the water and be fully immersed in the mercy and wonder and grace of God. They are invited to start living into their longings, trusting the one who is coming will be all they hope for and while they wait, live expectantly.
This advent, we are invited to live as if the reign of God is ‘already here’ but we also know just by looking around that it is ‘not yet’. John sees it breaking in with Jesus coming, but we are still waiting for the final fulfillment of all things. We still wait and long and hope. “I believe in the kingdom come, when all the colours flow into one… you know I believed it…but I still haven’t found what I’m waiting for.”