"That Church"

Who Invited this Guy, Anyway?

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“Who Invited this Guy, Anyway?” Luke 3: 1 – 6
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN

December 17, 2017

I don’t think that we will receive too many Christmas cards this year featuring John the Baptist on the front. In fact, I don’t think that I have ever received a Christmas card that hinted of John the Baptist. Yet, every year on our way to Christmas we confront this strange-looking man in the wilderness with his uncombed hair, uncut nails, wild honey dripping off his scraggly beard and the smell of insects on his breath. His diet consisted of locusts. John the Baptist clothes himself in camel’s hair. He wore clothes that even the church rummage sale wouldn’t have handled. When he preached it was fire and brimstone every time. He is a lunatic in the wilderness who hollers, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is coming.” For some reason, John the Baptist is here again and he seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. What I want to know is, who invited this guy, anyway?

After all, this is a time of hope and joy and sentimentality. . . I want to see Christmas cards with angels or shepherds or Mary holding the Christ child. I want to sit by the fireplace and gaze at the twinkling lights on the tree. I want to sip on cider and ponder the mystery and wonder of Christmas. But John the Baptist comes crashing into our living rooms, our parties, our workplaces, our sanctuaries. And he has only one message. He looks at you and me with those dark, deep-set, penetrating eyes and says, “Repent, repent, repent.” He sounds too much like those street evangelists who wave their Bibles in the air shouting “Repent, sinner.” Who invited this guy, anyway? Can’t we take Rev. John off our Christmas mailing list? Can’t we just celebrate without him?

Perhaps. Jesus may be perfectly able to come without John the Baptist, but I suspect that our odds of recognizing Jesus without John this Christmas season may go way down. In fact, Fred Craddock says, “Advent pilgrims on the way to the manger must pass through the desert where John is preaching if they hope to encounter the Christ child.”

John calls us to repentance. And sometimes we need to hear the bad news before we can encounter the good news. Sometimes we need to go through the barren, desolate desert before we can get to the Promised Land. John calls us to repent, but what he’s really talking about is possibility. In the Bible repentance is not just remorse for the past, feeling sorry that we did something wrong. In the Bible repentance is making a decision about the future, how we are going to live. It’s the realization that God is giving us a new opportunity for life, and seizing that opportunity. Repentance means to turn around, about face, go in a new direction. He is calling us to prepare not only for the birth of Jesus, but the birth of a new paradigm, a new world.

In our scripture passage this morning, we read that the word of God came to John out in the wilderness. After giving us the names and offices of the powerful in his day – Tiberius Caesar, Governor Pontius Pilate, Herod the ruler and so forth – Luke says the word of God comes to none of them. Bypassing the centers of power, we read that the word comes to one outside, one in the wilderness, one on the margins.

The most significant action in the cosmos, according to Luke, was taking place nowhere near any of those high and mighty types. Rather the word of God came from John in the wilderness. And God made flesh, the Divine Incarnate, came not from the powerful, but the humble. Not from the wealthy, but the poor. Not from the occupying force, but with people on the margins. “This is the stunning claim of the incarnation: God made a home among the very people the world casts aside…Mary – a dark-skinned woman, a refugee, a religious minority in an occupied land” (Rachel Held Evans, “Mary, the Magnificat, and an Unsentimental Advent, 12/05/17).

During this time of year, we often hear the “Magnificat” as written in Luke. The song Mary sung with the Christ child in her womb. We discover that Mary is not meek and mild. Mary is a prophet, carrying on John’s message of repentance. Bringing the news of a new realm.

Rachel Held Evans says, “In this season (December 2017), I hear Mary’s Magnificat shouted, not sung:

In the halls of the Capitol building…

“(God) has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty…(God) has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”

In the streets of Charlottesville…

“(God) has shown strength with (God’s) arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.”

Among women who have survived assault, harassment, and rape…

“(God) has looked with favor on the lowliness of (God’s) servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”

Among the poor, the refugees, the victims of gun violence…

“(God’s) mercy is for those who (honor God), from generation to generation.”

“With the Magnificat, Mary not only announces a birth, she announces the inauguration of a new kingdom, one that stands in stark contrast to every other kingdom that relies on violence and exploitation to achieve ‘greatness.’ With the Magnificat, Mary declares that God has indeed chosen sides.”

It is from the wilderness, those on the margins, that the word of God comes. This last week Roy Moore experienced a stunning Alabama Senate upset by Doug Jones. I fully expected Roy Moore to win – but it was those who have been on the margins that voted for a new realm of being. Thirty percent of the electorate was African-American, with 96 percent of them voting for Doug Jones. A remarkable 98 percent of black women voters supported Jones. In the words of J.K. Rowling, “Roy was right. God was in control. What he didn’t realize is that she is black.”

Why is it that the share of black voters on Tuesday was higher than the share in 2008 and 2012, when Obama was on the ballot?

According to one editorial, it was a matter of character. They listened when Roy Moore said that America was last great during the days when slavery was legal. They paid attention to the allegations of pedophilia brought by various women. They believed that Roy Moore’s Christianity did not square with the vision of faith shared by so many black civil rights leaders whose blood was shed on Alabama soil. They paid attention to Doug Jones who prosecuted two white Klansmen for their roles in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four African-American girls. After Doug Jones was declared the winner, one African American gentleman said, “Those four little girls are one their feet tonight at 16th Street Baptist Church, celebrating. They’re celebrating in spirit” (Richard Fausset, “Why Black Voters Backed Doug Jones: ‘It’s a Matter of Character for Us”, The New York Times, 12/13/2017).

It was there on the margins that the word of God came. It was those who have been outsiders who dreamed of a new realm of being. And they, along with John the Baptist, have an important message for us this Christmas season. “Repent. Turn around. The Kingdom / Kindom of God is at hand.” Joy to the world!