Unwrapping Christmas #2
According to Internet Movie Database, there are over 500 movies dealing with the life of Christ. In nearly every one of those movies, John the Baptizer plays an important role; but never in the scenes of the birth of Christ. That makes sense because John really didn’t come to the forefront until thirty years later. Historically he was born 6 months before Jesus but liturgically, or in the life of the Christian year, John has to come before the birth of Christ. Or at least his message does.
And although this juxtaposition is odd, form a historical point of view, it makes perfect sense in the scheme of God’s plan of salvation for the world. However, we don’t like John the Baptist. To most of us his message is about as welcome as fleas or bedbugs. His message feels like Scrooge’s humbug; but really, it’s not. John’s message is central and essential to the message of God at Christmas. The message of John the Baptist is “The Forgotten Gift” of Christmas, which helps us unwrap Christmas.
Let’s look at Mark 1:1-8, the passage for the message this morning:
 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;
 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”
 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.
 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
I. JOHN THE BAPTIZER:
A. Does anyone know what John the Baptist and Winnie the Pooh have in common? They both have the same middle name. And they both like honey.
John the Baptizer is just a little different than any of the other characters of the Nativity. I like to refer to him as Weird Uncle John. We all have weird relatives, right. Relatives you wished you could cut off the family tree? Well, so did Jesus. From our point of view, it was John the Baptizer. Let’s face it, he dressed funny. He ate weird food. And he had this “in your face” message that still makes people cringe.
Nobody wants him to come to the Christmas party. And yet, every year he’s invited and very year he shows up. Some years we hardly even acknowledge that he’s there but he always shows up.
And he’s here again this year with his message clanging in our ears like some crazed Salvation Army volunteer who won’t leave us alone until we put some money in the pot. He’s annoying, loud, and socially unacceptable in some crowds. And yet, if we look closely, if we study the Word, if we listen to Jesus we find out that John and his message are essential. We can’t have Christmas; we can’t experience the Grace or receive the Perfect Gift of Christmas without John.
For many people, Christmas is simply another holiday. It is a time for parties and extravagant gift-giving and mushy feelings, but it has very little to do with the birth of Jesus or the Message of John the Baptizer. And yet John’s message and the birth of Jesus are the very reason for our celebrations.
I read a story about a group of women, dressed in their finest, who were having lunch together in a very exclusive restaurant. A friend saw them and came over to their table to greet them. “What’s the special occasion?” she asked.
One of the women said, “We’re having a birthday party for the baby in our family. He’s 2 years old today.”
The friend looked around and then asked, “But, where is the baby?”
The child’s mother answered, “Oh, I dropped him off at my mother’s house. She’s taking care of him until the party’s over. It wouldn’t have been any fun with him along.”
That’s exactly how some of us, many of us in the world, celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. It’s absurd isn’t it? How do you have a birthday celebration for someone who is not even welcome at their own party? And yet, that’s exactly how we treat both Jesus and John the Baptizer, especially John. But we need John. We CAN’T forget him this time of year.
B. Believe it or not, John always reminds me of a dog we had. We called her Midnight the Wonder Dog. She was half black Labrador retriever and half coon hound. She was the runt of her litter, so she was not supposed to get very big. Wrong. She was supposed to be Mary’s dog. That was our plan, but apparently not Midnight’s. I became the love of her life. She loved the rest of the family and wagged her tail when they come home. But when I come home, she wiggled all over and could hardly contain herself. She got so excited to see me, it was almost embarrassing.
Back when she was little, I taught her a really cool trick; I taught her how to run across the room and jump into my arms. It was funny and cute until she doubled and tripled in size and weight. It’s hard to be prepared when this 60 lb dog suddenly appeared in mid air.
So, I had to teach Midnight WHEN to jump. And how to wait. When I came home, Midnight waited. But you could see the excitement. She could hardly hold herself back. She trembled with anticipation. She waits as patiently as possible and when I would finally tell her it was OK by saying the magic word “Boing,” then quick as a flash Midnight leapt into my arms and started licking my face.
During that time before the jump, Midnight lived in the tension of the “almost but not yet,” that period of anticipatory excitement. You could see the anticipation rippling through Midnight’s wiggles.
And that’s what John the Baptizer brings. Because we know that this season is about much more than the lights and the presents under the tree. If that’s all it were about it would be a pretty sad and empty celebration. It would be like having a party without the guest of honor.
But John brings the wonder and anticipation. Strangely enough, John’s message fills our hearts and minds with hope and expectation born of the anticipatory excitement of the “almost but not yet” of the coming of Christ, the Messiah.
II. JOHN’S MESSAGE:
A. Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “What strikes me about this messenger–this John the Baptist, is that he was nowhere near a church, and those who insisted on staying inside the church never heard the message. Only those who were willing to enter the wilderness got to taste his freedom.”
That got me to thinking. I believe John chose to preach in the wilderness. I don’t think he was forced to preach there I think he chose the wilderness for a specific reason. Not only to fulfill the voice crying in the wilderness part but because he knew about the wildernesses in our lives.
And we all have our own wildernesses. I’m talking about those spiritual wildernesses, the deserted places, the arid dried out, lifeless places in our lives. It could be an old hurt we’ve allowed to be calloused over. Or maybe it’s one that we have allowed to fester and become infected with ill feelings and hate. Or it could be the open wound of something we did or something we didn’t do that has never been healed and has continued cause us pain and suffering. It could simply the wilderness of despair or grief or hopelessness.
Whatever it is, we all have wildernesses in our lives. But we’re afraid to go into that wilderness. We’re afraid the pain will be more than we can stand. We afraid the cure will cost more than we are willing to give. We’re afraid that the forgiveness we are looking for will be denied. So the certainty and familiarity of our misery seems better, safer than the pain of possible rejection.
But it is precisely into this wilderness that John the Baptizer comes with his message. We need John to call us and break into our lives with his strident, rub you the wrong way, get under your skin, message calling us to the wildernesses in our lives. We need him to help us confront our fear of the journey. We need him breaking into the fog of our everyday existence, tearing down the walls of our defeses and shattering our complacency.
We need John reminding us that there is One who is coming, and now, who has already come, to bring peace to our souls, and restore wholeness to our spirits. We need John reminding us that if we face the wildernesses in our lives, healing and wholeness can be ours. But we can only experience it if we are willing to travel out to the wilderness to hear John’s message.
And if we are willing to take the medicine John prescribes. WATCH
B. “Repent.” We don’t like that word. But without it, there is no cure for what ails us; there’s no antidote for sin; there’s no forgiveness. Without it there can be no wholeness. It may seem like a strange word to be tossing around at Christmas but you have to remember that we aren’t celebrating Christmas yet. We are in the Season of Advent, a season of preparation for the celebration. That’s why John shows up every year, to help us get ready; to help us “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
You see we need John. Without Weird Uncle John we would never face those wilderness places in our lives, especially at this time of year.
And without John; without that voice crying in the wilderness; without that reminder, the medicine would go untaken. The gift John offers would go unwrapped and forgotten. And without John we could never receive the Perfect Gift God has been wrapping since the beginning of time.
For you see, it is through repentance that we truly experience the perfect gift of Christ.
If we forgot John’s gift and prescription then the perfect gift will have no meaning whatsoever. And the child in the manger will just be another child of poverty born out of wedlock. If we forget THIS gift which John gives in the form of a single word, Repent, then we won’t be able to receive the Perfect Gift from God or experience the grace and the peace and the joy it brings.
Pastor Steve Brown tells about a car he saw one day while driving home that was the ugliest car he’d ever seen. He says this car wasn’t just ugly–it was ugly on top of ugly. It had a large gash on its side; one of the doors was held together with baling wire; and several other body parts were almost completely rusted out. The car’s muffler was so loose that with every bump, it hit the street, sending sparks in every direction.
He couldn’t tell the original color of the car. The rust had eaten away most of the paint, and so much of the car had been painted over with so many different colors that any one of them (or none of them) could have been the first coat. The most interesting thing about the car was the bumper sticker. It said, “THIS IS NOT AN ABANDONED CAR.”
A long time ago,in a manger, a baby was born. He was a sign to us. His presence tells the rest of the universe, “THIS IS NOT AN ABANDONED WORLD.”
John the Baptizer, The Forgotten Gift, breaks into our celebrations to remind us that this world matters to God; that Advent has a purpose and that purpose is to get us ready for the celebration not only of the birth of God’s Son but of the Salvation of the world. And we do that through Repentance.
SING “PREPARE YE THE WAY OF THE LORD”
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.