December 7

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
"See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,""
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Mark 1: 1-8 (NRSV)


We Christians have our own December dilemma. Where our Jewish, Muslim or Hindu neighbors may struggle to maintain their religious identities in the midst of the Christmas barrage, we struggle to maintain our spiritual integrity in the midst of a festival, which still bears the name of our Savior, but has become largely a secular extravaganza. The "Holiday Events" insert in our local paper last year had a separate category for "Religious Christmas Events." All righty then!

Some of us place a total ban on Santa, elves, Rudolph, Frosty, and Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. Most of us, though, spend the season walking the tightrope stretched carefully between the Advent Wreath and the Christmas Tree. We do not want to be dour old Puritans, but we do not want to forget the Reason for the Season either.

Last December, a house I passed on the drive to my kids school displayed a banner exhorting, Keep Christ in Christmas! This is a brave proclamation in unchurched Oregon. But as I considered the tensions of the season, I wondered if perhaps I should whip up a few banners proclaiming, Keep John the Baptist in Advent!

We tend to assume that the big boxing match of the season pits Santa in the ring against Jesus. I am not so sure. Maybe the real action is the competition between Santa and John the Baptist.

Consider:
- Santa and John the Baptist are both big guys with wild hair and weird outfits - red fur or camel's hair: take your pick.
- Santa and John the Baptist both have odd dietary requirements: milk and cookies or locusts and honey.
- Santa and John the Baptist both reside in hostile wilderness environments: the North Pole and the Judean desert, respectively.
- Santa and John the Baptist both proclaim a word of judgment and a word of promise. Here the similarities end.
Santa's word of judgment consists of "making a list and checking it twice." The naughty are cast into the outer darkness of toy deprivation. Santa's promise, on the other hand, is that those deemed "nice" will be rewarded with the fulfillment of their every consumeristic desire. So you better not pout, you better not cry.

John's word of judgment would singe Santa's eyebrows. We're all naughty! Every last breathing one of us. There is no bargaining. There is no last minute full court press of good behavior that can save us. The only cure for what ails us is repentance for our sins in the hope of God's forgiveness. John's promise is that there is One coming that is greater than he— One who can fulfill the deepest desires of our souls through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Mark reports that lines formed in the desert from all the people who flocked to hear John's preaching and be baptized.
One holiday season I made a rare trip to the mall, kids in tow, hoping to complete my Christmas shopping in a one afternoon blitz of grim determination. (Did I mention that I'm not fond of shopping unless it involves a bookstore?) As we dashed from Made in Oregon to Nordstrom’s, my small daughter gasped with delight. She had caught sight of Santa's Village and the long line of children waiting for their turn on Santa's lap.

"Please Mom! Please!" she pleaded.

What to do? The pastor in me wants to limit any child's exposure to the cult of Santa. The parent in me worries that my children will be scarred for life if I do not let them participate in this great American childhood ritual. We joined the line.
Ever the multi-tasker, I used the wait time to muse upon my not-yet-finished sermon on John the Baptist. How easy it is, I reflected, to join the wrong line. The world pushes us toward the line at the end of which we whisper our fantasies to a jolly fulfiller of wishes. The gospel calls us to join the line at the end of which we confess our sins, enter the waters of forgiveness, and look to the One who is to come.

You better not shout, you better not cry.
Better not pout, I'm tellin' you why.
Santa Claus is coming to town.

On Jordan's banks the Baptist's cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh.
Awake and hearken, for he brings
Glad Tidings of the King of kings.

Dear Lord, guide us into the right lines where we wait for the right things. Help us long for what lies beyond our wishes and hope for One who is greater than any we have met thus far. Amen

-- Rebel Without a Pew

4 Comments:

Blogger see-through faith said...

ooh thank you for the larger font. It really helps :)

6:18 AM  
Blogger will smama said...

Awesome. I really appreciated this when I cheated and read it early in the book and now once again as I read it in a timely manner.

Thank you.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

thank you for this. i want to make a banner for myself! people would surely slow down when they drive by my house.

11:54 AM  
Blogger daisymarie said...

This was a fresh take on Advent that challenged me. I'll pay much more attention to the lines this season! Thank you.

2:44 AM  

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