Sunday, December 9, 2012

That Awkward Smelly Advent Cousin - John the Baptist

Traditionally the second Sunday of Advent is dedicated to a remembrance and reflection upon the ministry and message of John the Baptist. It is almost trite these days to talk about how awkward it is in a season of peace and love, of joy and merriment to be confronted by the brusqueness of John’s method and message.

But here he is, and we cannot avoid him just as we cannot avoid the other uncomfortable family reunions we have throughout the holidays.
Below is a portion of Barbara Brown Taylor’s reflections on John, his message and his meaning for us this Advent season.

John was scary alright. He was uncivilized. He was from another planet, but he spoke about the one who was coming as if he were repeating what God was saying to him right at that moment, one sentence at a time…
Dressed in animal hair with a piece of tanned hide around his waist, his breath heavy with locusts and wild honey, John proclaimed that Someone was coming, someone so spectacular that it was not enough simply to hang around waiting for him to arrive. It was time to get ready, to prepare the way, so that when he came he could walk a straight path right to their doors.

That was the good news that John was the beginning of. He was the messenger, and the message lit him up like a bonfire in the wilderness. People were drawn to him, apparently, not because of who he was and what he said but also because of what they offered them - a chance to come clean, to stop pretending they were someone else and start over again, by allowing him to wash them off…John’s baptism bypassed the temple and all its rites. Setting up shop in the wilderness, he proclaimed his freedom from so called civilization, with all its rules and requirements. He called people to wake up, to turn around, so that they would not miss the new thing God was doing right before their eyes.
The gospel always begins with a messenger, whether it is an angel whispering in Mary’s ear or a parent telling a child a story or a skinny prophet standing knee deep in a river. What strikes me about this messenger is that he was nowhere near a church, and those who insisted on staying inside the church never heard his message. Only those who were willing to enter the wilderness got to taste his freedom, and many of them were still there when the spectacular Someone arrived, far from the civilized center of town.

I reckon every one of us has some idea where our own wilderness lies, as well as a long list of all the good reasons why we should not go there. We are comfortable here, after all. We know the ropes and we know we will be fed. Why should we hunt God anywhere else? I cannot imagine, unless it is that voice crying out in the wilderness, the one you cannot quite make out from here. If we only listen for God in church, we will miss half the message. The good news is always beginning somewhere in the world, for those with ears to hear and hearts to go wherever the way may lead.
Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way, Cowley Publications, 1999.

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