Many years ago I read an essay by a Trappistine nun in which she mentioned her novice mistress’s advice to memorize the Psalms. So I decided I would choose forty psalms to memorize for Lent. (Not to anthropomorphize, but I imagine God’s eyes rolling at this plan.) I managed to memorize two psalms—1 and 51—before giving up the whole idea.
Based on this evidence you would be correct if you guessed that I would have judged John the Baptist to be too ascetic by half. But I probably wouldn’t have judged Jesus rightly either. I’m not sure I’d have felt comfortable with someone who kept company with tax collectors. It is possible I wouldn’t have followed either of them . . .
Advent asks us to choose anew whether we will follow the Christ we await. Advent begs us to see what Gerard Manley Hopkins saw—that “Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his . . .” But we can’t see Christ if we sit in the marketplace and offer witty taunts, as if he and John are spectacles for our amusement. This is not play. It is a matter of life and death.
Advent allows us the holy leisure to immerse ourselves in Scripture, to allow our roots to settle deep into the rich loam that lets us discern the good that God wills for us. It doesn’t require feats of memorization, only a heart longing for God, a heart that responds to God’s longing for us. We need to do so little. We receive so much.