John the Baptizer ruins our idyllic Christmas every darn year.
With his breath smelling like locusts and honey.
With his scraggly beard and hair-suit.
With his name-calling and bombastic personality.
He’s out of place with Mary serenely kneeling next to a quiet baby Jesus. He looks downright wild next to gentle Joseph, leaning on his staff. He doesn’t even match the shepherds, probably his closest vocational cousin, because all of those Nativity set shepherds are young, beardless, and have sheep over their shoulders.
John the Baptizer just doesn’t fit in with this whole scene, and yet here he is this Sunday, proclaiming that the Messiah will make geographical changes that will knock our socks off.
“The Messiah will flatten mountains, fill in valleys, make winding roads straight and rocky roads smooth,” he shouts.
But we can barely hear him over Bing Crosby crooning…which is why he shouts.
Oh, if you wonder what this week’s Gospel reading is, you can find it in Luke 3:1-6.
Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.
Certainly John the Baptizer feels out of place in our Christmas preparation. We’d rather have cookie bake-offs and candelight adorn our silent nights in these days.
But that’s not what we get. We get mountains made low and valleys filled in and a wild man standing outside our manger plays calling us from our sweet delusions and into the real world.
And that’s the Gospel writer’s point, by the way. Notice how the Gospel writer Luke sets the scene:
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
Luke sets us directly in the middle of history, and has John the Baptizer yelling at us to pay attention, because Jesus didn’t arrive in a dream.
Jesus arrived…arrives…in the middle of history.
In the second year of the Presidency of Donald Trump, when Roy Cooper was Governor of North Carolina, and Nancy McFarlane was Mayor of Raleigh. When Justin Trudeau was Prime Minister of Canada, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador had just been elected as President of Mexico, when Tim Smith was Bishop of North Carolina and Elizabeth Eaton the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Word of God appeared.
To call us to attention.
To remind us that mountains of shame are still being flattened, by God. And valleys of despair are still being filled in with abundant grace.
To remind us that the winding roads of inequality are being straightened, slowly and surely…and we have work to do with that still…and that the rough realities that so many live in are still being made smooth…and we’ve been enlisted in that landscaping crew, Beloved.
I love Nativity sets. I have half a dozen or so.
But they all need to be disrupted just a little bit so that our romantic Christmas can become a real gift for the world again. And again. And again.
So, Merry Christmas you brood of vipers! Get back to work.