read the full info here Dec. 8, 2019

Matthew 3:1-12


As we come to the second week of Advent, which always features John the Baptist in all his eccentricity out in the barren, disordered, vulnerability of the wilderness calling for repentance, it comes to mind that in some ways Christianity as a whole is really in a state of wilderness itself. The Church far and wide is in the wilderness as we speak.

I was reminded of this as I scrolled through Facebook the other day, which is a practice I’m vowing not to do anymore!  But, since the deed is done I’ll share the posts that got my attention.

The first said in big bold letters, “There is only one Messiah and his name is Jesus Christ, let’s see who’s not afraid to post this!”  …I didn’t post it.  But, it’s not because I’m afraid.  There are a bunch of reasons.  One is because I don’t see it encouraging anyone to enter into a loving relationship with Jesus Christ.  I don’t see it encouraging non-Christians to find divine love in Christian faith, and I don’t see it encouraging lukewarm Christians to embrace their own truth claims.  It’s not so much an invitation into something beautiful as it is a dare, and sharing faith is not a dare.  When done right, it’s a joy – the joy of people connecting deeply and in that connection discovering something of their sacred, Christ-filled selves.

But, maybe if I asked the person who posted it she would say that she wasn’t trying to share the Good News; she was trying to share her frustration.  There’s anger in that post: anger that Christ is by and large removed from Christmas, anger perhaps that the secularization of Christmas is indicative of a deeper secularizing of American culture.  God is less and less in the mix.  People, more and more, claim the right and capacity to live a life of deep satisfaction apart from any divine presence, and Christians often with or without knowing it act as if God were a component of life to be accessed when the mood strikes, which it seems to be doing less and less.  Times are changing, and one response to change is anger.  And I get it.  What mattered once no longer seems to matter, even if it is to our own demise.  We’re losing something.  It’s disorienting and confusing, and so one thing we do is vent on Facebook.

The other post read, “Want to keep Christ in Christmas?  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”  I thought for too long about “liking” the post, but in the end I didn’t because to have to like or not like feels a little too limiting for me – probably too limiting for the vast majority of our responses to mostly everything.  I do appreciate the point though.  It can feel like some folks are more interested in reserving the right to say, “Merry Christmas” than in living a life that is modeled on Christ.  What’s the point in upholding Christ if you don’t imitate him?  As the book of James says, “Faith without works is dead.”

I think there’s anger in this post too: anger in Christian faith that is ultimately self-serving, anger in Christian faith that would have us gain our ticket to heaven while the people whom Jesus served still live in various forms of hell.  It’s a corruption of Christian faith to make it all about “me and my personal salvation.”  So, there’s anger.

But, anger is a tricky thing.  It can motivate us in positive ways, but it can also consume us, rob us of joy, make us judgmental, and turn us from God.  It occurs to me that one of the reasons for the continued secularizing of culture is the secularizing of the Church.  The truth is, there are good people, people who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive, welcome, care for, and love others, and do it all with no particular faith at all.  They do it because they think it is good to do, not because they think there’s a God who wants them to.  And, if Christian faith gets boiled down to doing something that you don’t need God in order to do, well then the faith is pretty obsolete in the end.  If the Church and if Christian faith is going to have any real impact on our culture or on the lives of church goers it’s got to connect us to what we wont get elsewhere; its got to connect us to the God of Jesus Christ.

And, isn’t this what we most want?  Isn’t this what we most need?  Don’t we want to know that we are fearfully and wonderfully made?  We need that!  Don’t we want to know that we are part of something sacred?  There’s purpose for our being!  Don’t we want to know that we are loved beyond measure, beyond human capacity, beyond imaginable limits?  That’s grace, and there’s nothing more amazing, more awe worthy.  Don’t we want that love to fill us?  Don’t we want to see it in every single person we encounter?  Don’t we want to show it?  Don’t we want to be a part of its shining in this world?  That is what makes for a rich and beautiful life!

John the Baptist is out there in the wilderness calling the people to repentance.  Maybe he’s there because the familiar places are all too familiar.  Maybe everyone assumes that they are already “children of Abraham,” insiders, sufficiently saved.  Maybe they too were vulnerable to social trends that would have them forget the “more” that they were a part of.

Repentance isn’t an angry priest chasing a sinner from the confessional.  Repentance is an urgent invitation asking to be accepted.  “Turn!” says John.  Turn to God!  Turn to this God: the kind of God who comes as one of us, the kind of God who comes to be with us, the kind of God who suffers our rejections, the kind of God who overcomes them at any cost, the kind of God who shares God’s very Spirit to live, and breathe, and work within us.  Turn to this God says John.  Claim your sacred self and your sacred purpose, which are nothing less than God filled and God driven.

Maybe you are in a kind of wilderness?  Maybe you feel the wilderness of the greater Church?  Well, what I hear is that there is a voice crying out in the wilderness.  And, into that wilderness Christ himself comes.  Thanks be to God.