Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Baptizer

It always comes as a bit of surprise when he shows up.  Actually, it is more than a surprise for most of us.  Shock is a more appropriate word.  We cannot help but wonder what in the world is John the Baptist doing showing up in these days when our attention is getting focused on the big event in Bethlehem.  Like an unwanted guest in our home who simply shows up at the front door, not asking, but demanding hospitality, this fiery breathing, locust eating, prophet of God shows up to ruin our nice pleasant thoughts about the baby Jesus being born midst the sweet smell of hay in a manger of Bethlehem. 
Of course, most readers of the nativity story miss the appearance of this wild eyed prophet who screams and hollers about repentance.  Only those who religiously follow lectionary readings of the scripture which guide the believer into and through these days encounters him.  It seemed important to those who put these Scripture selections together in an orderly and purposeful manner to make sure that we got a good dose of the message of this kinsman of Jesus.  Regardless of all these things, we know why it is important that John the Baptist be included in this Advent season which serves as a time of preparing us for the celebration of the Christ event.  The Old Testament speaks of him as the one who was to come before Jesus and to announce that God was about to do something extremely radical in human history.  As far as the prophet was concerned the only way to respond to this radical activity of God was something called repentance which for any of us is a radical thing.

What we want to do with repentance is to soften it.  We like it sugar coated and easy to swallow.  We like for it to be as simple as saying, "I'm sorry" even though we know deep down in our heart that given the opportunity we are likely to be back in the same place of disobedience tomorrow.  Repentance is not about feeling good.  It speaks of deep sorrow for what is the sin in our life.  It speaks of a turning from choices which bring sin into our life toward choices which put us in step with the desires of God.  Repentance always involves denying the needs of ego for the sake of serving God.  No one was eager to hear John the Baptist preach this kind of message then any more than we are eager to hear it now.  But, the hearing and the embracing is the way toward the preparation called for by the Advent season.

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