>In Your Face Theology
>We’re at the second Sunday of Advent, now and this morning we hear from Matthew about a prophet named John the Baptist.
John the Baptist? The guy who ate locusts and honey and wore animal skins? The guy who yelled at Pharisees and Sadducees and shouted at people to repent, for the Kingdom was drawing near?
Maybe you’re trying to figure out what he has to do with the Christmas story that most of us grew up with. At this time of year, we expect images of the Holy Family: the serene mother Mary, the father Joseph, perhaps a bit perplexed at his situation, and the sweet infant Jesus being adored by his parents, shepherds, farm animals and foreign dignitaries, not a dirty, dissheveled prophet who lived out in the desert and plunged people into the waters of the Jordan to wash them clean of their transgressions and make them new, to bind them to the people of Israel who also came up from the water of the Red Sea transformed, delivered; that’s what ‘baptise’ means in Greek: to plunge. So this week, we await the coming of Christ with the introduction of John – the plunger.
This is the one Isaiah told us about – the one crying out in the wilderness to prepare a straight path to God. Not what we’re used to in this season of joy and giving, of peace on Earth and good will towards all, is it?
The navitity scene makes one pause to take in the beauty and humanity of this, the greatest of stories, doesn’t it? It touches the heart and makes one feel good.
What John gives us is in your face theology – a wake up call.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is near! You don’t know the hour or the day, but you’d better get your lives in order, get your souls in line with God! Someone is coming that is really going to rattle you, make you think and act differently, and you won’t even know it at first! So, are you ready? Are you up for it?”
Imagine some guy standing near the shallow end of a community swimming pool shouting this at people as they take laps; or imagine a guy on a street corner near Union Square during the Christmas season shouting scripture at you. Or, what about the occasional eccentric that wanders into church on Sunday morning, the person who brings you out of your reverie on the sermon, or that list of things you made and forgot to follow through on?
That’s what John the Baptist is doing: taking us out of our selves and our lives such as they are and bringing us to the realization that there is something more, something better.
This morning in his sermon, the homilist mentioned how different it might be, if, rather than have a vested deacon proclaiming the Gospel from the nave, a wild man came up the center aisle screaming this scripture, how might we react? How would it affect us?
I think, and it is this vested deacon’s humble opinion, that it would be a Sunday to remember.
We’ve had moments during our ten o’clock service where one of Berkeley’s many homeless citizens wanders in and joins the congregation, dragging a bag or backpack of all that he or she possesses, settling into a pew and quietly laughing or talking to oneself – or not.
Disruptive as this may seem, look at it this way: what if this is God’s way of getting us to pay attention to something other than the altar linen needing pressing, the deacon’s stole being inside out or falling off her shoulder for the tenth time, or the candles not burning properly, or the sound system squealing and popping, like turning our hearts and minds to humanity and creation, working together to make the Kingdom a place for all, that reaching out to those less fortunate than ourselves is one way of acknowledging our work in the Kingdom? God made the Kingdom and we should think of ourselves as the stewards of that eternal home. I don’t think the Kingdom is a place where we go to have God take care of us; but rather, we go to take care of one another and show God that we get it, that we have the capacity to love and serve as we are called.
Last week, Jesus asked us to pay attention. This week his cousin John demands that not only do we need to pay attention but get our lives and hearts in line with God, and when the one who comes after John appears in our lives, we put down what we’re doing and give him our hearts as well as our ears that listen.
So . . . when you’re out grocery shopping, or Christmas shopping, or shuttling from home to work, treking from the BART station to the office, take a moment to notice that guy on the street corner, the one with the dog wrapped up in a blanket. Is that who we’re waiting for? Find out by saying hello and asking how he’s doing. Sure, that may not be the Messiah, but you’re one step closer to being in the Kingdom.
Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord!