What would John the Baptist do?

John the Baptizer doesn’t really belong here, does he?


This is the time of year for shepherds and angels;

for nervous teenage mothers, and harried innkeepers

for dreams and visions of heavenly peace, not to mention sugarplums.

But this morning, our attention is once again directed to John, holding court by the Jordan River.


“Who are you…what are you doing here?” we may well ask.

And this is the testimony given by John,

“I am not a shepherd. Nor am I an angel, a prophet, or travelling astrologer;

I am outside the usual cast of characters.”


“What is your purpose, then? What brings you into our Advent celebrations?”

We’re not trying to be rude, but we know what we like,

and we don’t like John’s strangeness.

He don’t fit our idea of Christmas well observed –

there’s nothing neat and tidy

about the way John looks – or talks – or acts.

We want the prologue that we’re used to.


“Oh, if it’s a prologue you want”, says he, “then how about this;

‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,

‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’

You remember, from Isaiah.”

That doesn’t really soothe our minds, does it.

Isaiah prophesied of great upheaval in the current world order.

Isaiah called to a people in exile – bereft of their God –

and described God’s coming restoration (for the faithful) and judgement (for the rest).

This is not the kind of news we want to hear at the manger.


Yet here he is – roughly dressed, no fixed address –

one of those people it would be better to ignore.

Not caring an inch that no one approves of his manners, his appearance, or his speech…

and then there’s the troubling matter of his…his humility!

He will only define himself in the negative.

He insists that he is not the big news, that another is coming –

at whose feet John will gladly grovel.


This is no herald angel – no jubilant shepherd – no humble maid.

This is a voice to be reckoned with.

But what is he doing here?


In every age, the church has attracted and produced individuals

that confound our expectations and demand our attention.

Those who proclaim the promises of God –

faithful folks who propose new ways to imagine

restoration and right relationship with God are met with both hope and suspicion.


But John (and people like John) come along every so often

to remind the rest of us what it is we’re really waiting for –

what it is that God has promised to liberate us from;

they plead the cause of justice, against governments that offer only distorted visions of justice

they cry out for real equality – perfect peace –

pillars of God’s promised kingdom whose shadows are only faintly seen

by people who have traded God for the flavour of the day


So John lands in the middle of the promised land,

among those who call themselves promise-keepers,

and tells the simple truth:

“I’m not the promised one, and this is not the promised kingdom –

something better is coming.”

As we approach the cradle of Christ –

with all our preconceptions, all our traditions,

not to mention those sugarplums dancing in our heads –

it takes John’s voice to move us out of the dream-like state that Christmas has become for us.


Recalling Isaiah, John reminds us that Christ is not simply for our December amusement.

Echoing the words of a world changing prophet,

he stands alone against the common conceptions of the day – in defiance of them –

and dares the so-called ‘people of God’ to deal with the new perspective he offers.


The church has often compared itself to that ‘voice crying out in the wilderness’,

but the truth of the matter is this.

We regularly gather in worship to hear a single voice

tell the gathered faithful something of the wonder and promise of God’s gift in Christ,

and them we go home assured that all is well with us.


The truth of the matter is,

once the church door closes behind us, we all become like John –

our personal experiences of faith – our telling of the tale of Christ and the power of God –

all separate us from the world we live in,

and we need to decide what to do with the knowledge we receive

while we are safely gathered in this place.


Our baptism is not one of silence.

Our personal profession of faith is also a promise to speak out – to continue to profess…


We can refuse the part – we can say (and we do) that we’re not prophets –

we’re not John the Baptist (he lost his head, in the end…)

but the truth is we are sent into the world alone,

thrust into the wilderness that lurks beyond these doors with an incredible tale to tell,

and in the end, that makes us all more like John the Baptist than we’d like to admit.


Our job is not to pay homage in worship –

to simply observe the forms, admire the music, endure the preaching, and then head home satisfied.

The message in the gospel will not stay silent within us.

We are, each in our own way,

driven to ‘make straight the way of the Lord…;

to unravel our part in the gospel story – the grand tapestry of God’s handiwork

and offer that as our witness to a wondering world.


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