Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
“Happy Advent, you brood of vipers!”
This is one of my favorite Internet memes. The text is accompanied by a picture of a guy who is…not well-groomed, to say the least. I like it because it reminds us that John was not a clean-cut, well-washed prophet. He lived in the desert. He wore clothes made of camel hair (try that sometime). He ate weird food.
And he insulted people.
John was a prophet of the old school, one who “spoke truth to power.” The Hebrew word for prophet is navi’. It has the same root as a verb that means to “bubble up,” like a spring bubbles up out of the ground. The implication is that the word of God filled these people – both men and women – so strongly that they just couldn’t keep from speaking out. A prophet’s main job wasn’t to predict the future, although they sometimes did. A prophet’s job was to bring God’s word to the people.
I can guarantee you we would not have taken a shine to John. We generally don’t like people who are weird and rude. And throughout the history of Israel people often hated the messages that the prophets brought – especially the wealthy and the mighty. In Advent, last Sunday and this Sunday, we hear a good bit about John.
Today’s Gospel reading is from the latter part of the first chapter of John’s gospel. Incidentally, John the Baptist and the gospel writer are not the same guy. This is the chapter that begins “In the beginning was the Word.” The chapter makes clear that Jesus is the Word of God. The part we read today says that John was sent from God. One section we read today says that John “wasn’t the light but came to testify to the light.” The last part of today’s reading is John saying essentially the same thing, in his own words.
John was not the Messiah, and said so himself. John came to testify to the coming of the Messiah, the one of whom he said “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal”. We tag the gospel writer as “John the Evangelist,” but John the Baptist was a pretty good evangelist in his own right. He came to bring good news, the news of the coming of the Christ. John knew what was coming. He knew who was coming. And he just couldn’t keep it to himself. He had to tell people.
The spring 2021 – and final — semester of my Dominican novitiate will be all about evangelism. Now, I come from a particular religious background. I was raised Southern Baptist, where every Thursday night is specifically set aside for “Visitation”, basically going around to people’s homes and witnessing, which (in my case, at least) often made both them and me uncomfortable. I freely admit that I have certain…baggage about evangelism. I have things that I need to unlearn. I was brought up to think of evangelism as an “in your face” activity. You need to confront people and get them saved! Even the WORD “evangelism” tends to bring up unpleasant memories. So, understandably, I was feeling very uneasy about this semester. Which may seem weird for someone who is moving into a vocational ministry that is focused on preaching.
But then I began reading one of the assigned texts: Evangelism for Non-Evangelists: Sharing the Gospel Authentically, by Mark Teasdale. Teasdale says we have evangelism all wrong. It’s not about any of those things I was taught to do as a teenager. Doing evangelism can vary from person to person. And figuring how you should do it takes a bit of work.
A major point that Teasdale makes is that, before we can begin the work of evangelism, we have to know what we believe. What is the Good News that we carry? Only when we figure this out can we know how we can carry this Good News to the world.
John knew exactly what the Good News was that he was bringing, and he knew how to bring it to the 1st-century Jews. We, as the Church, should be just as confident as John that we do indeed know this Good News. But at the same time, we cannot allow ourselves to become smug. Too often we want to hoard the Good News and set ourselves up as good examples for the world, without really sharing that gift. I mean, aren’t we great? We have the Good News! You can’t have it, but we’ve got it!
John would not have hesitated to call us out.
The Messiah, the Christ, is coming. He is coming to redeem the whole world, to complete the task that began with his crucifixion and resurrection. We should be so filled with that Good News that we just can’t hold it in. It should bubble up out of us. We should be so filled with that gift that we cannot resist sharing it with others.
We lit the pink candle on the Advent wreath today, the candle of Joy. Are we ready to share this gift, this joy, this Good News? Are we ready to join with John as witnesses to the light? Are we ready to let this Good News bubble up out of us? Or will we keep it to ourselves?
I pray we make the right choice.
Let us pray:
Lord, when you look upon the landscape of your creation and the witness of the Word of God within it, we ask that we be found distributing the gift of joy we have received rather than hoarding it in selfish egoism. Deliver us from ever thinking that what you give is ours alone. Christ for the world – let this be our motto. Amen!
(Prayer adapted from one found in “An Advent Alphabet: Daily Readings from William Stringfellow,” by Jeffrey. A. Mackey)