Yeah…but

St_-John-the-Baptist(ADVENT 3C)

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. (Luke 3: 15-18)

Well if John shows up, it must be Advent. We’re not sure exactly what to do with him. He’s completely unorthodox, dresses oddly, eats bugs, lives in the wilderness, and, it seems, just cannot seem to tone down his rather zealous message. After all, this is the season of sharing and wonder and twinkling lights as we look for the coming of the Christ-child. “John…shhhh…you’ll wake the baby!”

We know that John and Jesus go together. John was born about six months before to Mary’s cousin, the child of parents who never thought they would have a child. And, if you remember, John was the one who supposedly moved or kicked or at least made himself noticed in his mother’s womb when the pregnant Mary walked in the room. John was clear about his calling. He was not the Messiah but he was the one who would point to the Messiah. He was the forerunner, the opening act, if you will, that would set the stage for who and what was to come. John preached repentance, turning around. His message carried an urgency that called us to change, to be ready for the coming of Christ. Yeah…but…

But we still don’t know what to do with him. We like to think of Jesus as one who is kind and compassionate so John sort of becomes the “bad cop” in the duo. But have you ever thought that perhaps we have a hard time understanding John because, truthfully, we don’t understand Jesus. If John was the one that pointed to Jesus as the one who would baptize with water and Spirit, as the one who wielded the power to save the world, then why would we assume that John’s message was really all that different from Jesus’? See, we like this season of waiting and birth. We like the image of the baby. It’s safe. We like the image of a Jesus who is kind and compassionate, a smiling man surrounded by children as he stands on a mountain and preaches love and mercy and forgiveness. Yeah…but…

Jesus was a radical, folks. Jesus burst into the world essentially through a back door. By the time the establishment knew he was here, things had already begun to change. Jesus did preach love and mercy and forgiveness. But he also preached following and change and a calling to lose our life. That’s right…a calling to lose our life that we know and become someone knew. John called it repentance, turning around. Jesus message was a little more forceful: Lose your life or you die. Change your life or you’ll miss the Kingdom of God. Yeah….but…

There is that moment on Christmas Eve when we sing “Silent Night” and light our candle. In that moment, the incredible twinkling moment, the baby comes into the world for us. But it’s only a moment. Because in that moment, our world changes. For a few verses in the Bible, we’re allowed to be a little silent, to look upon the newborn and beam with expectation. But it doesn’t last long. There is work to be done. Perhaps John’s whole purpose was to simply wake us up so that we would hear the message that Jesus brought. John pointed us to Jesus; Jesus points us to God. Otherwise, it’s just too tempting to stay at the manger and keep Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes where he is kept safe and we are kept comfortable, where we don’t have to think about Golgotha or our own shortcomings. So, THIS Advent, listen to John. Let John’s message point you beyond the manger to the One that will point to God, that will bring you life. But you have to let go for that to happen. Keep in mind, if Jesus as a baby was the point of it all, we would have a manger on our altar. But the baby grows up and asks us to follow. And the cross on our altar reminds us that we will never be the same again. Yeah…but…

“Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10:18) Jesus did not point people to himself but to God. Our worship of Jesus may well be our worst disservice to him and the easiest way of effectively ignoring him. The religion about Jesus is quite different from the religion of Jesus. May my honoring Jesus never stand in the way of the more important challenge to imitate him in his openness to the Divine. (Ron Miller)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

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