John the Baptist in the Mall

 

            I heard a story about a man in one of the those high price shopping malls like the International Plaza in Tampa.  The man caused quite a commotion among those doing their Christmas shopping.  He would sit near a beautifully decorated fountain near the mall’s food court and would talk to people who would relax on the benches next to him. He wasn’t offensive, not really.  In fact, there was a certain kindness and sincerity about him that drew people to him. 

 

            But he was not good for business. He would ask people why they spent so much money for Christmas, and why they allowed themselves to become so obsessed and stressed over this tinseled holiday. Sometimes he would tease, “We like out Christmas with a lot of sugar on it, don’t we?” Then he would say, “Christmas is about hope and love, isn’t it?  The best gifts we can give is to give kindness and compassion to each other.  Why don’t you forgive or reconcile with family or friends you’ve lost over the years?  The Spirit of the Christ child should embrace the entire year, not just Christmas.”

 

            Many of the people who listened to him would nod in agreement.  Some decided to quit shopping for the time being and go home to be with their families.  Others went and bought an extra toy or some clothes for charity.  Some even left the mall to find a quiet place for a few moments of prayer.

 

            Soon, word got out to the store managers about this man.  They had security escort him from the premises.  They realized that he wasn’t really hurting anyone.  But he had to go, they said.  He was ruining everyone’s Christmas.

 

            If John the Baptizer were to appear in our time and place, he probably would go to a mall during Advent and say the same type of things as the man sitting near the fountain.  He would talk about the coming of Christ and about God becoming one of us.  He would shake us out of our Christmas routine and syrupy feelings with the notion that peace on earth to all people of good will means forgiving those who have offended us.  He probably would remind us that we say “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” when we say the Lord’s prayer,  and then tease us by asking us whether we mean it. 

 

            The preaching of John the Baptist would not be conducive to the Christmas Spirit.  His only concern would be preparing the way for the Savior.  He would warn us that all the other things that we busy our lives with, particularly at Christmas, are secondary and superfluous to the reason for the celebration.