Advent Reflection: John the Baptist & The Big Picture

Advent Reflection: Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent: John the Baptist and Preparing for Christmas.

I have two data points:

Back in the 1950’s, I was a young second lieutenant at the US Army Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I was given an important assignment: I had to plan all the logistics for moving a tank platoon from the company motor pool to the tank firing range, some ten miles away. This involved moving five fifty-ton tanks, gasoline trucks and trailers, ammunition requisitions and transport vans, arranging appropriate range clearances, engaging range officers, safety officers, security, first aid and EMT services, and – oh yes – food and shelter and everything else needed by 50 young men who would be living out in the wild for some 18 hours.

I was overwhelmed by the assignment. I started figuring out how much gasoline we’d need to get there and back. Each tank got one-half mile to the gallon; it took two gallons to go one mile. I figured out how much fuel each tank could carry and then how many extra tanker trucks I’d need to support them while in transit, while there, and on the return.

And then there was oil, and tools and spare parts, and mechanics. There was no end to it.

Four hours later, I was still at it when the Instructor came by to check my progress. He said to me: “Are you still figuring out fuel consumption?” I said I was. He said: “Let the experts do that. Call the motor sergeant and tell him what you’re trying to do. He’s done it a hundred times before, and he’ll solve that problem in five minutes. The way you’re approaching this task, there won’t be enough time between now and the event for you to plan it!”

Second data point: I once worked for an executive; his name was John. He asked my advice on candidates for a promotion to an important corporate job. I had a colleague, a friend, whom I thought could do that job very well. He was excellent at developing plans to address a particular problem, but he had a little trouble with implementing those plans once they were approved. I thought that with a little coaching, he could become as good at implementing as he was at planning. I put forward his name.

John thought for a minute, and then said: “Yes, he’s a good man, but (John struggled for words) he never actually accomplishes anything. He’s always getting ready to get ready.”

“Getting ready to get ready.” Those words have stuck with me all these years. How many of us are guilty of just exactly that: Not getting something done, because we’re always “Getting ready to get ready?”

Advent is all about preparation. It’s about “Getting ready.”

In today’s Gospel (9 December 2013), John the Baptist repeats many early prophecies in a call for urgent preparation for a hopeful fulfillment of God’s promise to send us a Redeemer.

John says: “Prepare the way of the Lord….Make straight his paths….the winding roads shall be made straight…and the rough ways made smooth…and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

John’s orders to us were to focus on the Big Picture, the coming of the Redeemer. Like my Army instructor, and my boss John, he didn’t want us to get bogged down in detail (that we probably wouldn’t be very good at anyway), nor did he want us wasting time “getting ready to get ready.”

He was saying, in effect, “You know what to do. You know what winding roads and rough ways in your heart, and in your life, need to be made straight and smooth. Now, get out there and do it. Don’t get hung up on the detail.

To conclude my military analogy, John the Baptist was even echoed millenniums later, in a century still yet to come, by Star Trek’s own, Captain Jean Luc Picard, commander of the Starship Enterprise. Captain Picard rarely issued long and detailed orders to people who knew their jobs. He simply said: “Make it so.”

And that, I think, is the message of Advent. To simply prepare so that we can echo the words of Revelations and say: 

Come Lord Jesus. In all your Glory, I await your coming not tomorrow, but today, at this very moment. Fill me with your Spirit, breathe on me. Come Lord Jesus.” 

And we get there by remembering the four messages of John the Baptist (“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”).

My Army instructor (“Don’t get bogged down in the details”).

My former boss (“Don’t waste time getting ready to get ready”).

And Captain Jean Luc Picard (“Make it so”).


Ed McManus 12/7/12


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