December 4, 2022

Big Bad John    December 4, 2022         Isaiah 11:1-10         Matthew 3:1-12


Some of you remember, I’m sure the song, Big Bad John, by Jimmy Dean, yes, the same one who sells the sausage-  it goes back to 1961 when I was in college. I won’t try and sing it but the opening words are:

           Ev’ry mornin’ at the mine you could see him arrive
He stood six foot six and weighed two forty five
Kinda broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip
And everybody knew, ya didn’t give no lip to Big John,. Big Bad John.   

            Whenever I read this picture of John the Baptist in Matthew I can’t help but think of that song. – The picture of the Baptist just seems like someone not to be messed with.

John certainly is the curmudgeon of Christmas almost as much as Dickins’ Scrooge, in the Christmas Carol.  We can’t imagine him saying, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas” or singing Jingle Bells.  He comes on the scene with a slightly grumpy demeanor. –He and his camel hair clothes and diet of locusts and wild honey.  He didn’t mind a few bee stings I guess.–Don’t plan that for your Christmas dinner.

Of course, these are symbols that authenticate him as a prophet. Prophets were always people who relied on God and were not beholden to the powers that be.  They stood outside the mainstream. Prophets were not fortune tellers so much as truth tellers.  They spoke words of judgement to the nation for its lack of justice and mercy, for its mistreatment of the poor and powerless and the failure to maintain allegiance to the God who had brought them out of their bondage in Egypt.

So, we are not at the manger today. Instead of hearing from Magi and shepherds we hear John calling for repentance in the wilderness.  The wilderness is that lonely desolate place. A place of wild beasts and hard survival, a place where one easily loses one’s way.  It can be seen as a metaphor for all the places of alienation, fear and struggle that we face in life, the places of lostness and despair. Ironically, it’s the same place Jesus is goes to be tempted as he sorts out the meaning of his baptism and call. It is also the place of our lostness, our brokenness. And the place of the hopeless state of the world as it careens on towards the precipice of its own destruction.  That’s what John sees in his day, and why his cry is so shrill and penetrating.

John comes to us this Advent 2022, saying Prepare, God is coming. –Prepare your lives, prepare your world. Prepare with justice and right living.  John’s words have a sharpness and a hard edge because they must break through our defenses and rationalizations. He is harkening back to Isaiah’s words and reinterpreting them to put an emphasis on making our society ready our lives ready, our hearts ready to receive a God of justice and love, mercy and hope. The path that must be straight and the way that must be smooth is the way we are with each other. The way we hope and love and care. The way we envision the future and our connection to each other. To truly receive the gift of “God with us”, we must repent and change the focus of our lives John wants us to know. We must repent the shoddy callous way of the world and envision a new way of being.

So, his words come to us each Advent in all their strident glory to remind us what Christmas is all about, God is coming! –Get your heart and your lives ready!

Did John talk about Jesus born in a manger, or even envision a Messiah saying, “Father forgive them” from a cross? -Probably not, that was the mystery of God’s grace revealing itself uniquely in Jesus. But John did know that that God was doing something, and that the only appropriate response was repentance to ready one’s heart for God’s presence. God, he said, stood at the door of history, knocking. And he asks if we would dare to let God in. –It was not just about what happened in the first century AD.  It is about that “Eternal Now” moment when God stands at our door beckoning to see our truer purposes and to hear God’s calling.

Every Advent as we prepare for Christmas we are asked again, “Are we prepared to let God into our lives, into our world?”

What John is telling us today is that that baby born in Bethlehem, whose birth we celebrate in three weeks, came with the presence of God.  –Will you be ready to receive him?   And the communion we celebrate today dramatizes the grace that was lived out in Jesus.  A Jesus crucified and risen.

John comes to us this December reminding us that in all the frenzied activity leading up to Christmas, the shopping, the decorating the parties and socializing, God is waiting…waiting for us to find the reason for the season. God is waiting for us to do that internal preparation, that we might receive the gifts of grace and peace.

Today we invite you to this supper as the sacrament of his continuing presence and gift of God’s grace.  Here the door is open to God. Here the past is redeemed, the present made new, and the future is filled with hope.

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