The First Sunday in Advent, when the theme was HOPE, began with apocalyptic images that are as non-Christmasy as can be imagined.
Now in the Christian tradition, the Second Sunday in Advent with the theme is PEACE, the scriptures that confront us, the church (and the world) are of John the Baptist, whom the church has long insisted is an absolutely necessary character in the Advent drama. So much so, that in each cycle of lectionary, the scriptures for the Second Sunday in Advent is about John the Baptist. The scriptures assigned for this Sunday ARE NOT the sweet musings about the young cousin of Jesus born six months before Him. Rather, in these passages, we find John the itinerant, unkempt, brash preacher out in the desert; not at all a very personable fellow. He greets folks coming to hear him preach with these words, “you brood of vipers.” Nonetheless, John the Baptist is the forerunner of Christ, bearing an urgent message of repentance.
Let’s be honest, most of us don’t want John the Baptist as part of our preparation during Advent or at Christmas. We don’t put John on Christmas cards. We have no John the Baptist Christmas tree ornaments. No child plays John in Christmas programs, and he’s nowhere to be seen on front yard manger displays. John is too untidy and too dangerous for Christmas. Invite John to your holiday party and he’ll spill eggnog all over your Persian rug as he flails his arms around talking about your need to repent.
Scott Hoezee wrote this about why we don’t want the non-politically correct John the Baptist as part of our Christmas imagery. “He’s too shrill. If we let John in the door, he’ll wake the baby in the manger. Then again, if we do not let John in, if we will not or cannot tolerate his uncompromising message of repentance, then that baby in the manger may as well just go on sleeping forever and ever. Because, if we can’t let John in, we’re not ready for the baby to wake up anyway. If we don’t like what John says, we won’t like what that baby will eventually say, either. And then Christmas is over before it really began.”
Hoezee’s words struck a chord with me this week as I read them for this Second Sunday of Advent. For how many of us is Christmas over before it begins because we don’t like what John or Jesus eventually says to us. For example, we love the idea of peace (peace on earth, good will to all). However, we don’t want to upset anyone with a message about repentance. Yet the message of John and Jesus is that without repentance for those things that are actually keeping us from experiencing peace, we will not have any real peace in our lives at Christmastime or anytime.
So join us in worship at Covenant on this Second Sunday of Advent. I’ll be using the message of John the Baptist from Luke 3:1-20. It is a message we need to hear. If we heed it, maybe we can, on this Sunday when the theme is Peace, “Repent Our Way to A Merry Christmas.”