by Pastor Allen Walworth
The season of Advent reminds us each year of the remarkable life and ministry of John the Baptist. He is a single solitary figure, preaching an uncomfortable message. He had no ministry infrastructure, no marketing campaign, and no easy crowd access or visibility. He had no formal education, no endorsement from any religious authority, and no powerful alliances or financial supporters. His appearance, his diet, and his preaching were completely unappealing and unattractive. And yet great crowds flocked to hear him anyway, finding a way to his remote desert pulpit, and submitting to his call for radical repentance and baptism. What was it about this solitary fiery preacher that made him the small hinge upon which the huge doors of human history would turn?
Luke tells us the answer. The word of the Lord came to John, and that made all the difference. That is what drew the crowds to listen to him. He had a word—a real word—from God.
As Luke put it, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, John was “a voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” I like that phrase, “a voice of ONE…” That sums up John the Baptist in a single phrase; he was an unstoppable army of ONE. His voice may have been solitary, but it echoed in the corridors of power until kings trembled; it boomed across the desert with a power you could only explain as the sound of God Himself. One voice can pierce the silence, just as one candle can push back the deepest darkness.
We would do well this Advent to remember the power of a single voice, a single action, or a single life to make a huge difference in the world.
There is great power in a single life. The horror and pain of the entire Vietnam War was captured in the iconic photograph taken by Associated Press photojournalist Nick Ut. You may recall the image of nine-year old Kim Phuc running naked in the road, her clothes and much of her skin burned off by an American napalm bomb dropped on her village. The image is riveting, perhaps because it symbolizes all of the suffering and death of that terrible conflict rolled into one single victim’s suffering. The power of one is seen again as Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus in December 1955. Her passive act of defiance in the face of injustice symbolized the struggle of millions more, but it was all the more powerful because it was a single act by one solitary figure. Just one solitary life, yet what a powerful force unleashed! Make no mistake about it; there is great power in ONE.
What will be the influence of your one life, or mine? This is a good question for all us to ponder this Advent. The good news is that we do not have to cure an illness, or become President of the United States, or stop a terrorist attack single-handedly in order to live a life of significance. All we have to do is pour ourselves into a child, or mentor a young associate, or volunteer in service of the poor. We do not have to save the world in general; we only have to give ourselves in a meaningful way to one person in particular. That is enough. That has always been enough. There is great power in ONE.
So here is a question of Advent for each of us: Will I be the ONE?