Sunday, November 27, 2011
Perhaps, the first real surprise of Advent is John the Baptist. No one expects to see him striding into the sanctuary during this season of the year; yet, the traditional text for the second Sunday in Advent brings him into the spotlight and on center stage. What most folks are looking for is Jesus in the manger and to their surprise and dismay, in walks this obnoxious character to whom Mark introduces us in the first few verses of his gospel. And, let their be no mistake. John the Baptist is a character. He comes striding onto the stage of history wearing smelly clothing made of camel hide and with breath that reeks of locust and honey. When we get over the shock of his appearance, we are even more offended by his message. At a moment when folks are starting to say, "Merry Christmas," John is hollering, "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near." (Matthew 3:2)
The scripture identifies this messenger of repentance as the "the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight." (Mark 1:3) There is this fanatical and radical singularity about John the Baptist. Those first century folks saw it and, certainly, we do. Despite the current environment of a struggling economy, most people are more interested in hearing the many secular voices which promise that things will eventually get better than the one voice which tells us that something is so fundamentally wrong with each one of us that only radical change will save us.
What really makes John the Baptist so offensive is not his out-of-style attire or his bad breath, but the way he says that there is something wrong with each of us. Dealing with it is what is involved in getting ready for Christmas, not buying more gifts.