The author of Luke calls John’s message, “Good news.” In Luke 3.18, “so with many other exhortations, he preached good news to the people.” This is the Good News! This is the Good News? Children of Snakes? Repentance? Turn from your ways? How is this good news?
I believe it’s possible to hear the good news of John the Baptist only as we reflect on what’s missing in our lives. The people who came to hear his message were looking for something. Something was missing and they knew it. In their experience of suffering, in their day-to-day struggles, they had lost sight of what gave meaning to their lives. God seemed absent. The old answers didn’t seem to fit. They saw in the words of John the Baptist hope, the hope that God had not abandoned them but instead was working in their midst to turn things around, to change the course of history, to give purpose to their lives.
I have a good friend whose father died just before Christmas. For years he found it next to impossible to endure the glad tidings of the holiday season. The tinsel and the bright lights did not relate to his experience of loss. In fact, they served as painful reminders of what he had lost. Try as he might, there was nothing in the glitter, in the old times, that would bring hope.
What happens for those who find it difficult to get into the holiday spirit? For those who instead experience pain and loss, who feel not the warm, cozy feeling of the holiday glow, but the nagging sensation that something is not right, something is missing.
There is good news in the message of John the Baptist. God is not absent from our lives. God is in our midst. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, as we look forward to his coming again, we find hope in the God who is willing to come to us, to be with us, to suffer as we suffer, to rejoice with us, to comfort and challenge us. God has not abandoned us.
This is the good news, especially when things we’ve grown to rely on no longer work for us. Spirited good times become mixed with painful memories of loss. Seemingly innocent longing for things becomes mixed with the anxiety of not having enough to pay the bills. Even so, says John the Baptist, “Be good to one another. Share what you have. Be honest and accept what you’re given.” Continue to do what is good and right even in these desperate times. God is in our midst. This is the good news.
Some things are difficult to prepare for. Last Friday night I was called in to sit with a woman whose husband had just died. When I arrived I found it was family I knew well. I had visited frequently with them, shared in prayer and communion. I was at first shocked and then grieved the loss. It is difficult for me, and certainly for family and friends to connect the joy of shared life with this experience of loss.
Even so, there is hope. After visiting with the wife and friends, I spoke with the nurses. They described how beautiful his last moments were. He was ready to die and just before his last breath he took his wife’s hand and they said together the Lord’s Prayer. Even in death, hope endures. God’s final Word is a blessing.
God’s good news proclaimed by John the Baptist and embodied in Jesus Christ is that life at its core is worth living. Death and dying do not rob us of that. Instead, with hope for new life in Christ, we can endure the worst pain and suffering without giving up. We can let go of the things of this world we cling to — things that ultimately prove to leave us empty and spiritually void.
There is good news for all when labor and are heavily laden. For those who sense something is missing. For those who suffer loss. There is hope even beyond belief.