John the Baptist is most often associated with Easter but we’re choosing to go here today at the start of Advent because of his unapologetic focus on our needing to be ready for the coming of Christ into our lives. How are we ‘getting ready’ for the celebration of Christ’s birth? And to what extent are we useful for helping others to get ready? Do we in fact facilitate their readiness or do we in fact get in their way? John the Baptist confronts us with ‘readiness’ as the necessary attitude we must adopt in order to be properly Christ-receptive – properly God-expectant…
Some say, as Christ followers, THAT is probably our main purpose & goal within all our friendships, all our partnerships, marriages: …somehow always to be facilitating others in their faith journeys – helping them to find their place in welcoming Christ’s birth. Do we do that or are we normally just about ourselves and get in their way?
But what does that actually mean? Aren’t we all so very different? We will be looking at aspects of that question from now to Christmas, and we’ll do so by looking at the Nativity scene. What I’m suggesting is that each of these very familiar characters represent some aspect of each one of our readiness journeys, and as we focus on them one at a time, who knows how God may work to prompt greater readiness to celebrate Christ’s birth within us and others this year!
On Dec 8, next week, it will be about the shepherds. We’ll be examining what it means that they had the angels burst into their lives – what do we learn from them? And also, the townspeople who were not at the birth. How could they possibly have just missed all of what was happening as Christ was being born? We’ll be doing so around the Advent theme of PEACE.
The following week, on Dec 15, our focus will be – a little anachronistically – on the Magi, the Wise Men, whom we know actually only arrived sometime later. We’ll be specifically looking at the determined and intentional and deeply faithful logic that drew them from their comfort zones in the East to Bethlehem… What does that mean for our getting ready today? Our Advent theme on that Sunday will be JOY.
On the 4th Sunday of Advent, Dec 22, we will focus firstly on Joseph, looking at what we learn from his stubborn rejection of what both social and religious law demanded of him with regard to Mary, that he may be useful for facilitating Christ’s birth. And then, secondly, on Mary and her spirit of absolute submission. That last Advent theme is LOVE.
But we begin this month of getting ready with John the Baptist, and the theme of HOPE.
Clearly, John was a rabble rouser. A troublemaker. A disrupter. He stopped people in their tracks and forced them to face things about themselves that they may otherwise have missed: …and that is his gift to us! He insists that we STOP! RE-ASSESS! NOTICE & then LEAVE BEHIND all of what is getting in the way! The reality is that there are constantly things that creep into each of our lives where we have compromised, to which we have become numb. Comfortable things perhaps, familiar, but desperately unhelpful as they get in the way of us engaging with the Christ and who he has made us to be. John would have us confront those things!
For those Pharisees and Sadducees – I wonder what things they had embraced that were stopping their appreciation of Christ as He moved towards them? It seems to have had to do with their sense of religious privilege and entitlement. As the teachers and keepers of the Law they believed that they had some especially elevated status over others, believing they had some special ‘IN’ with God.
John demanded that they not only notice those attitudes of entitlement but that they immediately stop trying to hide behind them! They were to notice whatever was complicating their real & most authentic receptivity to Christ – and they were to end them! Repent! Turn away! Looking straight through all their impressive outer credentials John the Baptist insisted that they examine their inner motives and attitudes because THAT is what truly mattered most, if they were ever to receive God’s presence and influence through Christ in any significant and meaningful way!
And so, with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer he stopped them dead in their tracks, insisting that they do whatever was necessary to get ready! I wonder what those things are in us – things that we may think are OK – may think even give us some kind of edge, but actually are toxic because they get in the way of us recognizing and receiving the birth of Christ in our lives? Perhaps it’s our over-familiarity with the story – we’ve heard it so often that we don’t actually ‘get it’ anymore?
What obstacles get in your way? This is where it must get very deeply personal! I know that we all have them! We spend our entire live crafting them, creating our careers, building our reputations, all those careful veneers of respectability, masks of achievement, medals, and credentials. And I know that for as long as we hold up all these finest creations of our ego-selves we are actually developing unholy barriers to the embracing of Christ’s sacred Christmas presence and purpose!
What does that mean for you? Where is the HOPE in all this? Our hope is in Christ alone! It is in the fact that Christ is come! God is with us – Emmanuel! Christ’s Christmas coming doesn’t depend somehow on our recognition or even acceptance of the fact. The hope John the Baptist brings is that it is never too late for us to stop to notice and then turn away from all that may actually be getting in the way of our embracing all of what Christ brings and so that awareness of ourselves restored to all of God’s original intentions…
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