Advent observation: It is easier to preach “baby Jesus” than to preach “John the Baptist.”
This year, I have intentionally gone a little “prophetic” for my Advent sermon series. There haven’t been many fluffy sheep and warm, cozy stables. No “little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” I have shied away from the stale “remember the reason for the season” messages that do nothing but reinforce rampant consumerism, only now you have a divinely sanctioned reason for it.
No, this year I preached justice. This year I preached faithfulness. This year I preached counter-culture. I named oppression for what it is and got fairly specific: death penalty, racism, homelessness, affluence and poverty, war. I didn’t exactly deliver John’s “brood of vipers” line, but I am hopeful that my four Advent sermons were at least challenging enough to, if not compel people to repent, at least lead them to consider it as an option. I tried to be a little bit of John the Baptist, minus the camel hair and locusts, of course.
But it was hard work. All four weekends left me pretty much wrung out exhausted. Knowing that what I was going to say would upset some people, then going ahead and saying it anyway, then standing in the back of the room to smile and shake people’s hands as they left the service was an exhausting series of events. It is so much easier just to say things that make people feel all snug and sparkly. An old friend, Kurt, told me once that a choral concert I had conducted left him feeling “as though he had been dipped in Christmas.” That’s easy to do. Requires neither valley lifting nor mountain lowering.
But we can’t let our faith get stuck at the level of a nativity set. (Especially one of those big lit-up plastic ones in some families’ front yards.) It is hard work, but we have got to go deep into our own hearts and confront that which separates us from God, name it, drag it up to the surface into the light so that we can once more become the people God desires us to become. And sometimes that process requires the impetus of a prophetic voice in the wilderness, even an exhausted one.
(Pictured: "St. John the Baptist" - Caravaggio c. 1604; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; click here.)