Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who was arrested by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp.
In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” he describes the sufferings that Jews endured in those camps, and, perhaps surprisingly, he says that one of the worst sufferings was that of waiting:
- waiting to learn what happened to loved ones
- waiting to learn one’s own fate
- waiting to be gassed or otherwise executed
- waiting to be rescued
This terrible waiting, he says, affected prisoners in different ways: some lost hope and despaired; others lost faith and stopped believing. But others continued to wait and pray. They never lost hope, they never despaired, they never lost faith.
What was true of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany was also true of the Jews in ancient Palestine who also suffered from political oppression and from the pain of waiting – in this case waiting for the coming of the Messiah…..
…..the Messiah who would be the promised one, the King of whom the prophets said:
“Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot of David….and this is the name they shall give him: ‘The Lord our justice’” (Jeremiah 23, 5-6)
When the Messiah didn’t come, ancient Jews responded as did modern Jews: some lost hope; others lost faith; but others continued to wait and to pray.
Then out of the desert came a man named John whose message was like that of the prophets of old.
“Repent!” he said, “turn away from your sins!” The Kingdom of Heaven he was indication was at hand.
Excitement rolled across the land and many people began to think that this was the promised one, the Messiah.
But John put them right. He was the forerunner of someone greater. He was the one of whom the prophet Isaiah was speaking when he said:
“A voice crying in the wilderness: Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him to travel!”
Prepare the way of the Lord.
Prepare for the coming of the Promised One, the Messiah!
Prepare with every fibre of your being as if your life and your eternal happiness depended on it – as indeed they do!
There’s an old story that illustrates the kind of jolting impact that John was trying to make on people’s thinking.
There once was a fabulously wealthy king who lived in a beautiful palace. But in spite of his wealth, he had a simple heart and a deep, sincere desire to find God.
He read books, he consulted wise men, he prayed in the gold-covered palace chapel – but with no success.
Then, one night, while lying in his satin bed, he was wondering why he was having such trouble finding God, when suddenly he heard a terrible racket on the roof of the palace.
He went to the balcony and shouted, “Who’s up there? What’s going on?”
A voice, which he recognised as belonging to a hermit who lived in a forest nearby, shouted back, “I’m looking for my goat; she’s lost and I’m trying to find her”
The king was angry at hearing such a ridiculous response and shouted back, “How can you be so stupid as to think you’ll find your goat on the roof of my palace?”
The hermit shouted back, “And you, Your Highness, how can you be so stupid as to think that you’ll find God while dressed in silk pyjamas and lying on a bed of solid gold?”
The story ends by saying that those simple words of the old hermit jarred the king so severely that he rose from his bed and, eventually, became a great saint.
This was what John was trying to do – he was trying to jar people out of their beds of apathy and complacency. He was trying to get them to prepare for an event that was imminent and one that they hadn’t dreamed possible.
The very Son of God was about to enter human history and be born as a baby – not dressed in silk pyjamas and lying on a bed of solid gold, but dressed in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
May the simple words of John the Baptist jolt us from our beds of indifference and complacency and jar us into realizing that the kingdom of heaven is indeed at hand.