Advent 2C, 2021
Did you know that contemporaneous writings at the time of Christ have many more mentions of John the Baptist than Jesus? I’m fascinated by this – John was a bigger deal than Jesus at the time. We get bits and pieces of his life throughout scripture but let’s zoom through the whole story:
The Canticle we read today is the song of Zechariah – John’s father. He and his wife were old and childless when he was visited by the angel Gabriel. Gabriel announces that Zechariah and Elizabeth will soon bear a son to be named John.
“Oh, come on!” says Zechariah. “We’re way too old for a baby!” The angel Gabriel is so annoyed by him that he makes Zechariah speechless!
Now mute, Zechariah returns home and before you know it, old Elizabeth is with child. Soon, young, pregnant Mary sets out to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Now I love this beautiful image; the moment Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, the child (John), leaps in her womb and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. Even in the womb, John knows Jesus is something special!
Elizabeth gives birth to a little boy and when it’s time to name him, mute Zechariah asks for a writing tablet. Following the instruction of the angel Gabriel, he writes, “His name is John.” And with that Zechariah regains his power of speech.
We catch up with John in the wild, wearing a camel-hair habit and eating locusts and wild honey. He preaches a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Huge crowds throng to him from all over. As they confess their sins, they are baptized in the river Jordan. They ask what they should do next, and he answers: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
When John realizes that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees are showing up for baptism because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he explodes: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? It’s your life that must change. I’m baptizing you but just wait: the one who comes next will ignite a fire within you changing you from the inside out.”
When Jesus arrives at the Jordan River, he asks his cousin John to baptize him. The moment Jesus comes up out of the river, the skies open and God’s spirit descends saying: “This is my Son, my beloved.”
Herod Antipas was a wicked and egotistical ruler who didn’t like how John was shaking up polite society with his preaching. He had John arrested, put in chains, and sent to prison. He was afraid to kill him because so many people believed John to be a true prophet of God.
John, in prison, wanted to confirm that Jesus really was the chosen one, so he sent his own disciples to ask, “Are you the One we’ve been expecting?” Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, (and here’s the best part) and the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.”
John was in prison because he had provoked Herod by calling out his adulterous relationship with his sister-in-law, Herodias. When Herod threw a birthday party, Herodias’s daughter, Salome entered the banquet hall and danced for the guests. She dazzled Herod so much that the king said to the girl, “Ask me anything. I’ll give you anything you want.” Salome ran to the king and said, “I want the head of John the Baptist served up on a platter. And I want it now!”
Unwilling to lose face with his guests, Herod caved in and let her have her wish. The executioner went to the prison, cut off John’s head, brought it back on a platter, and presented it to Salome, who gave it to her mom.
There. The life and death of John. What a story! What a life! John did, indeed prepare the way of the Lord. He was kind of like the warm up act. He lived a harsh, intense life, always true to himself and his God. He offered people his baptism, a way to change their actions and change their lives for the better.
One interesting thing in this gospel is that John was a nobody, kind of a weird nobody. Luke is a historian who starts today’s gospel reading with a list of the most important people of the time. Today this would start with: In the 21st year of the 21st century, when Joe Biden was president of the United States and Jay Inslee was governor of Washington, when Vini Samuel was mayor of Montesano, the word of God came to the people of St. Marks, Montesano. Little St. Marks. Like John, we are a bit of a nobody, maybe a weird nobody. But God chooses us to prepare the way of the Lord.
God regularly chooses insignificant people to do his marvelous work: John the Baptist, Mary the teenage, unwed mother, lowly shepherds, poor fishermen. God is eager to use insignificant US with our insignificant talents and gifts. Our small actions, done with great love, can change the world.
Because of how we do church here, with no paid staff, we are able to give a good amount of money to needy causes in our communities. We bring delicious food made with love to folks in Aberdeen and Westport. Here in church, we welcome the stranger, with love and without discrimination. And each of you, show love and kindness to the world around you all the time.
That is preparing the way. That is channeling God’s love through your actions. Remember that. God uses YOU to bring his love to the world. In this season of Advent, focus on that. Pray on that. Then go out into the world to do God’s work!
Please pray with me: Dear Lord, help us to be watchful and prayerful. Help us to model our small lives on your example. Help us to hear afresh the challenge of John the Baptist to make our lives ready for your coming. We seek to straighten our crooked paths and make our lives holy places fit for our coming King.