12-2-19 - John the Baptizer

(You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.)

In our first full week of Advent, we invite a strange figure into our lives and imaginations – John the Baptizer. Every December, as twinkly lights appear in our neighborhoods and tinkly music fills our stores, we church folk are confronted by this stark, uncompromising messenger from God calling us to repent and renew our commitment to God:

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near…" Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

John was a man completely committed to his mission, to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord,” the purpose an angel predicted to his bewildered father Zechariah (Luke 1:5-25) He stayed in desert places, eschewing all but the most rudimentary clothing, chewing on locusts and wild honey – a diet high in protein and low in fat, if a bit stark. Other Gospel references tell us that he had disciples, but he did not seem interested in building a following or winning popularity. His message is harsh and focused, confronting the materialism and corruption of his countrymen, and calling people back to reliance on God alone.

It can be hard to reconcile John’s message with our cultural preparations for Christmas. I once wrote a sermon drama imagining John the Baptist on the loose in a shopping mall, decking Santa and confronting carolers – it ended with him baptizing the mall cop in the fountain. Where do you imagine this single-minded messenger of God might turn up in your holiday preparations?

Today, how about calling to mind the image we’re given, the wild man in skins calling us to “Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand!” Imagine John on your street or in your office, or anywhere that comes to mind as you open your imagination in prayer. What do you hear him say to you? What do you say to him? Do you feel you have anything to repent of?

How does it feel to hear, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” is right here, right now? Are there any changes you want to make in your life in the light of that reality?

John is strange company to keep for a month, but let's let him in – he is an important companion and antidote to the materialism and stress that rise around us in this season. Take him with you when you shop or decorate – he won’t sap the joy, just the superficiality. You can tell him to leave the locusts at home.

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