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We are familiar with the story of John the Baptist as the herald of the coming Messiah – it is the story that introduces and highlights the Advent season. But Advent’s proclamation of Christmas is not the end of John’s story. He remained a man faithful to God’s calling.

After Jesus began his public ministry and the spotlight refocused, John continued baptizing and calling people to repentance. He continued calling people to remember they were a covenant people. He challenged kings, even if it meant being imprisoned and being killed.

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These days I have been reading and thinking about compassion, sympathy and empathy. The words all share a linguistic root in the Greek pathos (emotion or feeling). Sympathy shares a closer linguistic root with empathy. Sympathy comes from syn + pathos, to have common feelings or emotions. Compassion’s roots pass through Latin, com + passio, to bear with or to suffer the passion of another. They are similar words, but not exact synonyms. Compassion is the broader word: it refers to both an understanding of another’s pain and the desire to somehow mitigate that pain. Sympathy implies that there is already an existing relationship of some nature that draw people together that to share the same emotion or feeling. Empathy is that capacity to understand the emotion or feeling of another even without that already existing relationship. It seems to me the human quality of empathy is foundational to all the others.

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