John was a keen observer of nature as he preached from his desert location by the Jordan River. It says that he fed on locusts and wild honey, and through that diet he needed to learn the signs of nature. For the desert locust to swarm there need be rain somewhere prior to that swarm. It is that rainfall that signals biological changes in the insect to change from a solitary creature to the destructive plague. His wild honey too needs those observational skills. To find it he had to read the signs of nature to locate the hive. These two insects also can symbolize two extremes, with one as destruction and the other construction. It was the locust that plagued ancient Egypt prior to the Exodus, and the Hebrews destination was the land of milk and honey. As bees and locust can symbolize good and bad, they also are an allegory of two civilizations. Could they represent also the relationship between Jerusalem and its neighbors? Could it be a way of describing that swarm of foreign armies? As John baptized, he also observed. His message of “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” must have been based on those observations. He observed his countries leaders, its subjects, its immigrants, and its invaders. From his perch outside society he could observe society and deliver his message of repentance and preach that kingdom of God.
On the second Sunday of Advent people are indeed busy as bees as they swarm about preparing for the holiday. If John were to observe this activity today as he did on the banks of the Jordan I wonder what he would read in to all the signs he saw. Would he indeed see folk’s busy making way for the Lord, or might he instead see people gouging on an opportunity? Would he see the destruction of the locust, or the nobly industrious bees? His preaching was based on observation. For our repentance to make way for the Lord, it is based on an examination of our own activity. Repentance calls for that constructive examination. In the old testament it was the locusts that brought Gods wrath to those who opposed him. It also was the locust that was sent to correct the disobedience of Gods own people. Theirs is the symbol of destruction, and of activity that bears no fruit. Like those locusts swarming about, one has to wonder how many Advent endeavors are as destructive as that insects. In the wake of a locust swarm all that remains are plant stems stripped of their fruit. Might that be an allegory to shreds of wrapping paper and tinsel covering a floor? Bees efforts to the contrary are constructive. Through their diligence and sociability they build their hive, the fruits of their labor is the success of that hive, their honey, and that wax used to make church candles. Theirs is a swarm that has a bountiful harvest. Theirs is that preparation for that kingdom at hand, and they truly represent what it is to make way for the Lord.