John the Baptist – Again?!?

Scripture: Matthew 3:1-12

Let us pray:

O Most Holy, as we prepare for your coming, open these scriptures for us; more importantly, open our hearts – that we may learn and do your will. Amen.

You just had a taste of one of my favorite children’s books for this time of year. Aptly called, “The Happiest Season of All,” I am often reminded that indeed this season is a study in contrasts. True it can be breathtaking with lights on snow, excited children, colorful decorations, and that mysterious goodwill that somehow manifests itself as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are cleaned up. There are also those who find it the most challenging time of the year, with too many painful memories of missing family and friends. To both there is a standing invitation to embrace the deeper meanings of Christ’s coming into the world. For some who accept it, there is a deep inner joy to be found when contemplating the feel-good, warm-fuzzy familiar longings: Christmas carols, anticipation, and somehow that magical, childlike wonder and goodwill to all. And, true, for some who accept the invitation, there will be and always is an uphill struggle to come out on top of the darkness of despair.

Enter John the Baptist with his call to repentance. For me, being one of those who loves to bask in the glow of this season, I have to ask: Why does he have to come along and ruin the warm-fuzziness of it all?!?

Commentator John P Burgess writes,

“John asks us to examine ourselves, rather than bask in holiday wonder. We should bear good fruit, rather than worry about material things to get or give.”[1]

That is a hard sell, John. I would guess that many of us think about Advent as the season to look backwards, to reminisce a little about those “good old days” of childhood innocence or young lives spent together or perhaps mellow evenings by firelight. Ah, yes, the “Good Old Days.” Wait a minute…wasn’t there some sort of tag line recently about making something great again? As if recently it’s all gone to pot or something? Bring back the past? Can one actually do that? Can we dream of days of yore when Sunday school classrooms were filled and the same children’s Christmas pageant was put on for 30 straight years? Can we bring back sleigh rides, unclogged roads, cultural innocence, transportation by horse and buggy, where cottage industries replaced factories and refineries and everyone knew one’s neighbors and there were no bad guys in our neighborhood?

John the Baptist reminds us that progress cannot be made without looking back; “Repent!” he calls, but it doesn’t take much to realize we are not in the past, are we? Like the Scrooge of fame, the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Past both have to inform us of who we are and where we have been before we can move forward into the future, veiled as it is behind shadows of uncertainty. This present time of a now and not-yet kingdom is where we make crucial choices concerning our next steps as well as the legacy we wish to leave behind, temporally and spiritually.

So here we are in Advent, where we find ourselves once more challenged with the foreknowledge that the cross looms ahead for the tiny babe we await on Christmas Eve; yet if we are truly honest, we might also realize God knew about the cross from the very beginning. Does that help us swallow the two halves of our liturgical high points any easier? Death on a cross and birth in a stable? For me, it adds to the Holy Mystery of it all, that God cared so much for me, for you, for this earth-jewel rotating around it sun to be Emmanuel, Redeemer, Revealer, and Sustainer.

Another commentator remarked that John the Baptist is a bridge between eras of Israel’s history. He had one foot in the age that was ending and one foot in the age that was being born.[2] So, too, I would argue, do we. Now wait just a minute, you may say…wouldn’t that implicate us to be modern day Elijah’s? Voices calling in the wilderness, “Repent for the kingdom is at hand!”? Yes, that is our role; we, too, should be pointing to the one whose sandals we are unworthy to tie, the one who is coming after us who was before us. Yes, we, too should be pointing to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who calls all to his table of grace. And so we call, while at the same time, we come, to the Lord’s table; to this table, where all are invited and God is the Master. By all means, let us prepare ourselves once again in this season of Advent, and let us pray that all glory and honor and power and mercy and might be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Burgess, John P. in Feasting on the Word—Year A (Feasting-Year A), David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 2.0

[2] Herzog II, William R., Ibid.

For Reflection:

Read the account of John the Baptist in all of the Gospels. Notice the differences in the introduction to this story. What do you think is significant about these small differences?  Is repentance such an antiquated, “churchy” concept that it seems irrelevant in our current context? How is confession different or the same as repentance?  John’s role is to point beyond himself to Jesus. How do we do that both as individual Christians and as communities of faith?

Household Prayer: Morning

As I rise this day, O God, turn my eyes toward what is noble. Teach me to see hope where it is veiled. Give me the wisdom to desire the good. Help me to love all I encounter this day – including myself in the mirror! Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

As I end this day, Holy One, I give you thanks for all the richness of my hours and all those whom I encountered. Guard us all, O God, and keep us in your embrace until the daylight comes. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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