“Listen and Hear”
December 16, 2018 – Year C – Advent 3
Oh, My God. The audacity of John. How dare he speak like that! What a commotion he is making! We just want to be baptized – not lectured. He called us a brood of vipers! When we asked him what we should do, we had no idea that he would make such high demands of us. Sharing our coats. Giving up food. Tax collectors to collect only what is prescribed. Be satisfied with our wages. How preposterous! Oh, My God, will we listen to John?
Like the people of John’s day, we are filled with questions. Must we listen to his message to fully understand the Good News? Must we get our heads around the proclamations of John in order to comprehend Christ’s message of love?
John doesn’t sugar coat his message. It is “in your face” direct. There is an urgency to what he has to say. Don’t flee from the wrath of God, he says. Stay and do what you can to make it right! Don’t rest on your ancestral laurels, do something yourself that displays your faith. In all this directness, there is good news just the same.
The Gospel of Luke describes John’s message as “good news”. But for whom? It is not good news for those who are unwilling to change or see no need of it. It is good news only for those who long for a different society, a reality transformed by God’s powerful love and justice. It is good news for those who long for the coming One who will complete the work God has already begun. The image of a harvest underway is one of God already acting to bring about a new reality. The one who is to come will baptize with God’s own Spirit and, like the beginning of creation, blow new life into humanity.
I can’t help wondering if John’s message is needed once again in the political scene that the world finds itself in. Perhaps we need the sharp, prophetic message of repent and do justice. I suspect that we need to hear the bold directive for sharing. Give away what you don’t need. Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God, are all present in John’s rhetoric. Via television we have seen enough poverty, starvation, killing, and human misery, to disturb our sleep for a long time to come. The message of sharing and justice might be better news than we think to us who have more of this world’s goods than we need. It surely would be for those who have too little.
When the people ask if John is the Messiah he reminds them that his baptism is one of water and repentance. Redemption is the name of the game. He states that the One who comes after him will baptize with the Spirit and fire. The Greek word for Spirit and wind are the same. It is Ruah. Wind and fire are both transforming elements which change what they touch. Christ’s coming is transformative and if we wish to know the joy and peace of the Divine transformation we need to open ourselves now to a new world – a world in which power is shared and all have what they need. And if our actions proclaim that such a world is possible, what joy that will bring!
Frank McCourt, Pulitzer prize winning author of Angela’s Ashes, has a children’s book titled “Angela and the Baby Jesus. Angela was McCourt’s mother, and at age 6, she worried about the baby Jesus in the nativity crib in the church near her home. She wondered why no one put a blanket over him. She knew cold and hunger firsthand and decided she would do something about the baby without anyone knowing. Angela sneaked into the church and took the baby home in order to give him a warm place to stay. Her brother, Pat, caught her trying to get the baby Jesus into the house. He became the tattletale and told their mother that Angela stole the baby Jesus. The whole family climbed the stairs and found the baby Jesus with his head on a pillow. “Mother O’ God!” said little Angela’s mother. “Is that the Baby Jesus from St. Joseph’s?” They all knew it was.
Her mother asked, “And why, for the love of God?” Angela answered, “He was cold in the crib and I wanted to warm him up.” It was decided that the baby had to be returned to the church immediately and to his mother. Upon arrival at the church, the priest and policeman greeted the family at the door. Angela admitted to taking the baby. The tattletale bother turned protector when the policeman suggested that Angela might have to go to jail. “The strange thing now was the tears twinkling on the cheeks of the priest in the December moonlight. The policeman coughed and gave his baton a bit of a twirl.” The priest urged Angela to place the baby in the crib and promised that his mother would keep him nice and warm. She complied, and “When she put the Baby Jesus back in the crib, he smiled the way he always did and held out his arms to the world.” Angela’s day included judgement by her brother and redemption by the priest when she was simply trying to care for Jesus.
Redemption – now that is what today’s message is all about. John proclaimed redemption through the act of baptism. The One who’s birth we await lived redemption in all he did – in all he said – and in how he loved! May redemption be known by each one of us. Amen.