When I was a kid, my mother was very taken with tent revivals. Most modern people have no clue what those were but traveling preachers would pass through town and erect a tent someone in less than favorable neighborhoods because those were the only ones that would allow a tent to be erected in their area. The tent would be equipped much like a church, with folding chairs, a speaker system so that all could hear, and, if it was winter, big heaters that would blow from the back of the tent toward the front so that people would not freeze while receiving their dose of religion. The ground under the tent would be covered with sawdust so that the shoes of all would not be covered with dirt or mud from the ground. The preacher sponsoring the revival would put out ads in the newspaper and many seeking miracles or salvation would flock to hear what the visiting preacher had to say.
Even though my mom faithfully dragged us to church every time the doors were open, she still insisted on going to tent revivals to see the visiting preachers. It was not enough that she went but she took her three children with her on these religious escapades. I remember falling asleep many a time on those hard wooden folding chairs and being woke up when we finally could go home after my mom had received whatever blessing she had come to find at the tent revival.
Most tent revivals were of the Pentecostal style, featuring lots of theatrics presented by the preacher along with music that would be more acceptable in some of the nightclubs of the area. Worshipers were encouraged to "let go and let God" so it was not unusual to see people falling on the ground or dancing around the tent area to the beat of the loud music. My mom was not one of the dancers or fallers but she did stand at her chair and did a little gospel jig as the music droned on and on. Finally when the preacher got started he usually did not stop for about an hour. His message was punctuated with a lot of guilt and his purpose was to make those present feel about as guilty as they could be so that they would "get right with God" and "walk the sawdust trail" to the altar to pray. Many a man and woman ran down the aisle to find relief when the preacher described how disastrous life and death would be without knowing God was there to save you.
I mainly slept through the sermons but sometimes I would watch the participants (I was an unwilling one, dragged there but not old enough to be held responsible for actually being a part of it) as they would dance or shake or fall and wonder why this traveling preacher should have such an effect on these otherwise seemingly civilized people. If you had met them on the street in Beaumont, most of them would not have behaved as they did under that revival tent, but there was something magical about being under the spell of the traveling preacher. He would shout and he would pace back and forth and wipe his sweaty brow with a big towel he brought along for the purpose and people would shout back at him and the entire experience was one of sound and light and electricity that could not be found anywhere else in society in those days.
Maybe it was that way with John the Baptist when he stood on the banks of the Jordan River and told people to repent of their sins and to be baptized to show they were serious. That traveling preacher was as odd as they came--dressed in animal skins and eating all manner of things that others in that place and time did not eat. He yelled at those gathered and compared them to snakes and told them that their religion was nothing special. He told them to repent and to be baptized and that he was there preparing them for the real messenger of salvation who was to soon come. We do not know the result of his preaching except that it eventually got him killed when he accused Herod of all manner of things, something that was not very wise.
Still, John the Baptist made waves and the waves swept across the the kingdom until finally John met the one whom he had been predicting would come, none other than Jesus of Nazareth, his cousin to whom he gave great homage. Repentance was the theme of John's message to those who would be baptized but Jesus willingly accepted baptism even though he had no need to repent.
Sometimes it takes something so out of the ordinary to make people think that they will go out of their way in order to see it. Maybe it is a traveling tent revival or a screen door or pancake with the image of Jesus on it. Maybe it is a story that the Virgin Mary appeared to various people around the globe. Maybe it is something that cannot be explained and that very fact causes thinking people to think and emotional people to feel something that they had not felt before. Sometimes people are seeking an answer to their questions and they go to any place to see anyone whom they think could have the answer. If they have to fall down in some sawdust in order to receive what they were looking for, well, there have been higher prices to pay for wisdom or emotion somewhere in the world in the past.
Repent....the message of John the Baptist for Advent this week. Repent and turn again and be ready for the coming of the Messiah. Repent and start again and be made new in the season of newness and light. Repent and decide to be more involved and more alive through the grace of Jesus Christ given to all who would believe.