This sermon preview is part of "Pardon the Interruption: An Advent Series."
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“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
-From Matthew 3:1-11 (NIV)
John the Baptist is a figure out of sync with our time, or any time. And yet, in many ways he is "Mr. Advent." He proclaims the coming of the King, in the sort of fiery glory which burns away all that does not last.
The Episcopal Preacher Fleming Rutledge in her collection Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus Christ noted how strange it could seem that it is very common for churches to read the words of John the Baptist these weeks leading up to Christmas. His words are full of consuming fire, far from Christmas lights' gentle and warm glow.
Rutledge says of John's famous cry, "You brood of vipers":
How would you like to get that on a Christmas card? . . . . We really don't know what to do with him; he doesn't fit into anything... But here he is. (293).
Inspired by this, I made my own John the Baptist "Season's Greetings" card to show how strange his words are to hear. But something more shocking is this: we need to hear those words!
John the Baptist's cry is to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance."
His role is as a voice calling out in the wilderness: "Make straight the way of the Lord."
His aim is single-minded: to proclaim one greater.
There are many things that do not last. That includes, essentially, every Christmas present we might buy.
They will break. They will fade. Their ultimate destiny is likely the landfill.
But John reminds us of something that does last: an in-breaking age of the justice of God.
John the Baptist reminds us of greater things, higher things. With his wild camel hair clothes and his bizarre locust diet, in his home away from all people, he has perceived our condition more clearly and more fully than most people.
He asks us to re-order our lives. To proclaim one greater. He knows it is when we lose our lives for the sake of God, we can truly find them. Or as Jesus says later in this Gospel:
"All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them."
- Matthew 16:25, CEB
Christ invades our world and can make a new creation. This new creation is made up of people who live according to the ways of another age: a new age.
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
- Colossians 1:13-14, NIV
That is why John the Baptist seems so out of place and out of time. The Christian life should always feel a little bit out of place. Because it should look like the coming Kingdom: where grace abounds and service to the Lord is perfect freedom; it should look like the joy of proclaiming One greater than us.
Join us this Sunday as we discover what it means to experience the joy of proclaiming one greater.