Advent 3C, 2009
A Liturgy is also available
THIS JOHN BLOKE IS ONE GUTSY, ROUGH HOPEFUL!
John the ‘dipper’ or ‘baptiser’ is indeed a lucky boy!
Not only is it impossible to get to Christmas
without first meeting up with him.
But this same John gets a second slot in the lectionary this week.
And what a rough ‘in your face’ appearance it is too!
I mean to say... “You brood of vipers…!
Talk about throwing the book at them!
Where did this baptist study preaching techniques anyway?
But perhaps I should take a step or two back and set the scene.
The person we call Luke tells his stories
with a particular message and theological point in mind.
He - and I am saying ‘he’ even though
we really don’t know the author’s gender or identity -
is wanting to say that while the teachings of John
are important and need to be appreciated,
the more important bit comes with Jesus.
So the first thing we note in the lectionary readings around this time
is there are two birth/infancy stories in Luke.
The birth of Jesus.
And the birth of John.
And Luke tells about these births in matching parallel stories.
The two stories belong together.
But to help his young congregation grow in their understanding,
he claims the Jesus story is the more important.
Then we need to note Luke gets his sayings attributed to John the Baptiser
from an earlier common collection of sayings called "Q",
(from the German, ‘Quelle’, meaning "source") (W Loader web site, 2003).
And into this collection Luke has placed some additional sayings
which focus on a series of contemporary issues.
Luke is doing what every preacher does each week when s/he prepares a sermon.
So, what is the message or messages Luke is offering his young congregation?
It was a group of process theologians over the past few years or so,
who have allerted me to a few clues in all this.
So let me offer a thought or two, influenced by their comments.
The world we live in, like the world of the prophets and apostles, can be a violent one.
People bomb and kill other people all in the name of God.
And while much of the religious violence,
that has caught the media’s attention over the past five - ten years or so,
is acts of Muslim (rather than Christian) terrorism,
we know that Christianity also has a tradition of violence
against others (infidels, heretics) all in the name of God.
But do we really need to have the violence of God in order to hear the ‘good news’?
Or can the good news itself be a lure to see the inadequacy of our ways,
whatever they are, and change them? (SNelson. P&F Lectionary web site, 2000).
Many theologians now suggest that each age must look at how its images for God function.
And if some images work for death, it is appropriate, even necessary,
to find the new ones that work for life - all of life.
Thinking theologically, then, means more than just interpreting
our given ‘orthodox’ biblical tradition and creedal statements.
It also means being willing to think differently now than in the past.
When Luke had ‘dipper’ John thinking theologically
he had him preaching what we recognise as ‘hell-fire and brimstone’.
Well, some with a different theological persuasion to mine,
say that’s one way to encourage (or is that terrify?) people
into changing their ways.
I don’t happen to agree.
Indeed, I claim, along with many others, it does more harm than good.
And is not a genuine expression of the ‘gospel’.
But I do admit we need to show anger (but not violence) when the world:
- condones the violation of the innocent,
- savagely exploits the earth,
- looks the other way when the rich prey upon the poor, and
- institutionalises injustice, and silences voices of protest.
The world needs to know that such violations are wrong. Period.
And the image of an angry God is perhaps then a valid image to use
in the very best ‘dipper’ John voice we have.
But I also reckon we need to take another step.
And that is to actually do something about such violations.
‘Dipper’ John says, according to our storyteller Luke:
We need to bear fruits worthy of repentance.
So John proclaims, and then proceeds to live those changes
in ‘fair dinkum’ economic terms, as he demands:
the sharing of goods,
honesty in tax collection and,
Yes, in economic terms not in personal ‘get-sweet-with-God’ religious terms.
The former is a call for social justice.
The latter is an attempt to control God and the future
by trying desperately to protect one's self (RMarshall. P&F Lectionary web site, 2003).
So taking the storyteller Luke, through his mouth-piece John, seriously,
will require a truly creative change
in both our thinking as well as in our doing.
Not only in how we decide what causes to support financially.
But also in our active support of changes to current economic policies
“that result in (a) maldistribution of the world’s goods in the first place” (RPregeant. P&F Lectionary website, 2006).
As one of those process theologians suggests:
“It is [often] easier to give from our abundance than it is to seek the kind of justice that might [demand of us] a radical redistribution of income, wealth, power, and privilege” (RPregeant. P&F Lectionary website, 2006).
John is not pretty. He is not reassuring.
“The choice between a baby in a manger and the rough message of transformation is a scary choice” says another (RMarshall. P&F Lectionary web site, 2003).
But he is a necessary part of the Advent story and Advent preparation.
Because we can get very sloppy about Christmas.
And miss all the earthy and ordinaryness of it all.
The power and the politics and the economics of it all.
Into such a situation came the voice of John. A voice of challange and protest.
And he offered the people who
“lived under the shadow of Rome and under the burden of Herodian control and taxation, a new way to end the pain and uncertainty that plagued their daily lives” (Horsley & Silberman 1997:34).
In the public mind, John was a major religious figure in the time of Jesus.
In our time and place, John’s voice needs to be heard again.
And I reckon it is progressive religious folk like us
who need to take the lead,
offering a voice of hope rather than a voice of fear.
For Advent is for those who call for change.
Horsley, R. A.; N. A. Silberman. 1997. The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World. MN: Minneapolis. Fortress Press.