Bar 5: 1-9; Phil 1: 4-6, 8-11; Luke 3: 1-6
There’s something intriguing about the characters we meet this time of year in Scripture, certainly that of John the Baptist whom we encounter today and next week and then will reappear on the last Sunday of Christmas. But not only him, certainly Jesus, and Mary who will close out Advent, and Paul whose writings we continue to hear. There’s something intriguing about all of them. It’s easy to say, well, Jesus is God and there is that, but there’s something more deep within that attracts us to them. John the Baptist may live the most radical life of all of them and is quite vocal in pointing the way to the truth. I dare say, when we put them all together, what makes them so intriguing is that they are all fearless. That is what makes them such a threat and so different from the others that are named.
Luke, as well as Matthew, don’t just rattle off names that are often impossible to read. They are there for context in relation to the true characters of the story that are timeless as well as larger than life in their own way. These are the systems that they will now all push against, whether it be the religious leaders and the high priests, the political leaders, and those of the Roman Empire. We’re not talking about any small fete for any of them. They are different and they will pay a price. But even some 2000 years later, they can continue to shed light on what it means to be a follower of the way, in being fearless ourselves. Here is a crew that will not be easily bought nor sold. They aren’t going to give into the fear. They aren’t afraid of losing it all. In the end, they’re going to challenge us in the same way.
John the Baptist gives two directions. This week he invites us out into the desert. On the Baptism of the Lord, he’ll invite us into the depths of the water. He invites us into the desert of our hearts and the depths of our souls. He calls us to a life of repentance and forgiveness of sins. Now it’s not what we’ve made that into. He wasn’t talking about going to confession, good as far as that goes. He is challenging the people and us to do a total 180 in our lives, a radical change in the way we live our lives. Again, you can see why they are such a threat. Even at the moment when he is beheaded, Herod remains fearful of him because he knows the influence he has on the people. There’s something intriguing about him.
John isn’t going to be bought by anyone. We too quickly buy into the fear that plagues this world. It’s safe to say that we find ourselves as a nation and world in the desert of our lives. What else can explain such violence and war? What else can explain such deception and fear? What else can explain such a blatant disrespect for life that we continue to witness here on our streets and around the world. All we keep doing is feeding these systems that don’t see us for the humanity that we are! The more we consume, the more fearful and anxious we become. They systems, from the political and even the church structures, have bought into this consumer approach that we can no longer even hear the radical message of the gospel, not of fear but of life. Yet, we live in such fear of losing it all…losing our reputation, which didn’t stop Mary, losing all we have, which certainly didn’t stop John the Baptist, losing our lives, which of course doesn’t stop Jesus. We have become so attached to the system of being bought and sold to the point that the culture has become enslaved by and to it.
Rather than seeing brother and sisters we see ideology, we see how we can benefit, we see what else we think we need, we think if we just have more of this it will solve it all. That’s what makes John the Baptist such a threat and such an intriguing figure because he’s been free of it all and they all know it. This invitation to the desert of our hearts and depth of our souls isn’t about rattling off things we’ve done wrong, it’s an invitation to recognize that there’s more to life and none of what we put all our stock in is ever going to fill that desert in our hearts and the more we try the more fearful we become and the harder it is to give it all up.
Paul is a great example as he writes this letter to the Philippians. He writes it from the confined spaces of prison. He has nothing to lose at this point. He will always be threat to the status quo of the society. He’ll always be a threat to those who are benefiting from the systems, and yet, he’s not vengeful or hateful towards anyone, rather, writes practically a love letter to this community. Rather than choosing fear he chooses to lead with love and to be love to others.
So how about us? Where are we in all of this mess, mindful that God does not enter into some perfect world or some great utopia. Rather, he enters into the reality which I’ve just spelled out. The encounter for John the Baptist, where the word of God comes, is in the desert, surrounded by religious and political leaders that invoked fear in the people, an encounter takes place and John is changed forever. The same is true for us and the invitation stands. We can continue to feed the fear of our world, and there are certainly things to fear, but that’s not faith nor is it God. Like these leaders that Luke spells out for us, this invitation should be shaking us and unsettling us for what is to come and the more we desire in life…not more fear, but rather a life free of fear and unattached to all that holds us back from being the love we have been born to be.