Monday, December 19, 2005

Prophetic Exhaustion

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.)


Adam Caldwell said...


Good stuff all you have to do is throw in some fire and brimstone and you'll have it made.

"Sunshine won't you be my mother? Sunshine come and help me sing, my heart is darker than these oceans, my heart is frozen underneath, we are crooked souls trying to stay up straight, dry eyes in the pouring rain...the shadow proves the sunshine..."

It's a good song thought I would share it with you all. New Switchfoot for those who don't know. Alright, I'm out.

monkey czar said...

Hmm ... There's certainly no little Lord Jesus not crying in the Advent texts, but there's no brood of vipers in either Mark or John, either. It would be interesting to see what you did with the actual text of the lections. Neither Mark nor John have much to say about the content of the Baptizer's call to repentance. In Mark, the Baptizer's work (the call to repentance) prepares the way for the ministry of Jesus. In Fourth Gospel, the Baptizer becomes a prototype of the ideal evangelist.

Perhaps you were preaching topical sermons only loosely connected to the texts, or the connection between the text and your particular list of societal sins isn't obvious from your description.

It would also be interesting to see what rhretorical approach you took to such a prophetic task - how you attacked or by-passed resistance in the hearers.

Anyway, I hope it's not too stale or sentimental to wish you and your congregation a Merry Christmas.

Stephen said...


RCL Advent 2A is Matthew 3:1-12 which is very much brood of vipers and calls for repentance.
"Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham." I wondered if John were still preaching today if he might have address us Christians as a "brood of vipers" and told us to "not to presume we have Jesus as our Savior"

Even the stones will cry out!

Michael said...

Good show, Andy. Ours is a task that cries out for us to tell folks what they NEED to hear, and a reasonable preacher will certainly understand that it will not always be what they WANT to hear.

My wife, my most trusted advisor, asked me recently why I tended to focus on the "negative" even though, as she says, I end my sermons with a call to "dare hope". I've considered what she has said, but I think maybe most of us get a little anxious when we are forced to look deeper than we are fully prepared to.

Good stuff!