A number of years ago a couple traveled to the offices of an Adoption Society in England to receive a baby. They had been on the waiting list a long time. They had been interviewed and carefully scrutinized. Now at last their dreams were to be fulfilled. But their day of happiness was another's pain.
Arriving at the offices of the Society they were led up a flight of stairs to a waiting room. After a few minutes they heard someone else climbing the stairs. It was the young student mother whose baby was to be adopted. She was met by the lady responsible for the adoption arrangements and taken into another room. Our friends heard a muffled conversation and a few minutes later footsteps on the stairs as the young mother left. They heard her convulsive sobbing until the front door of the office was closed. Then, there was silence.
The lady in charge then conducted them next door. In a little crib was a six week old baby boy. On a chair beside it was a brown paper bag containing a change of clothes and two letters. One of these, addressed to the new parents, thanked them for providing a home for her baby and acknowledged that under the terms of the adoption each would never know the other's identity. Then the young mother added one request. Would they allow her little son to read the other letter on his eighteenth birthday? She assured them that she had not included any information about her identity. The couple entrusted that letter to a lawyer and one day the young man will read the message which his mother wrote on the day, when with breaking heart, she parted with him.
I wonder what she wrote? If I had to condense all I feel about life and love into a few precious words what would I say? I would have no time for trivia. I would not be concerned about economics, politics, the weather, the size of house or the type of car. At such a time I would want to dwell on the profundities, on what life was all about and what things were absolutely essential.
John in the desert was in the great tradition of the Hebrew prophets. He was aware that time was running out. In his burning message he had no time for peripheral matters. He was not playing Trivial Pursuit nor was he prepared to splash about in the shallows. Soon the sword of Herod's guard would flash and his tongue would lie silent in the grave. Superficial people came out from Jerusalem to see him. They were intrigued by this strange phenomenon of a wild man preaching repentance. They were fascinated by frivolous things such as his dress, his diet, and his fierce declamatory oratory. They wanted to interview him and then tell all their friends about their remarkable experience. "Who are you?" they asked. His answer was curt: "I am not the Christ." "Are you Elijah?" "No!" "Then who are you?" they persisted. They had their doubts about who he was but his message to their ears was clear: Repent.
There comes a moment when the preacher longs for his hearers to lose sight of everything except his message. "Don't listen to my accent. Don't look at my clothes. Don't comment on my style. Don't search my biographical details for my University pedigree. Just listen to what I am saying. Repent!"
I would like to suggest this morning that Repent was the first component of his message. There are two others. Let's take a look at the first.
- John's Message Called People to Repentance
- John Told People to Share.
- The Third Thrust of John's Message Was to Serve.
The Irrational Season
One brief, sunny morning a woman looked out her living room window and was amazed to discover a dead mule on her lawn. Immediately she called the sanitation department and asked them to remove the carcass. But by the time the work-crew arrived, she had changed her mind. She gave the men $100.00 each, instructing them to carry the mule upstairs and to deposit it in the bathtub.
After they had dutifully followed her instructions, one of the workers asked why she wanted the dead mule in her bathtub.
She said, "Well, for 35 years my husband has been coming home at night, throwing his coat on the rack, grabbing the newspaper, plopping into the easy chair and asking, ‘What's new?' Tonight, I'm going to tell him."
What's new this Christmas?
Every year we plop ourselves down in the Christmas calendar and ask:
Who's got the most popular gift?
What's the best of the best?
What toy/gizmo requires a five-hour wait in line?
Every Christmas season there is some new sound, or flavor, or decoration, or game, or cell-phone "app" that defines the cutting edge of "cool." And probably the memory of waiting in line, clawing through a crowd, falling into debt, will linger longer than the "new," "cool," "hot" thing you suffered for.
But wait a minute? Isn't the exact opposite equally true?
It's the "old" stuff that we hanker after and hunger for. We hang the ratty old homemade ornaments on the tree. We crave the same old cookie recipes. We want to hear the old arrangements of the familiar carols we heard as kids. The candle wax spotted tablecloth is reinstated. That strange cheeseball thing reappears.
So which is it? Sameness or Newness?
The truth is Christmas finds us caught between our quest for the new and our yearning for the old. We are starved for new stories about the same old thing.
The "Hallmark" channel is showing repeats of every schmaltzy Christmas movie ever made 24-7 from Thanksgiving Eve through Christmas Day. But the sappy sentimentality of those shows doesn't fill the hole in our soul. Ernest Hemingway called sentimentality "an emotion you don't have to pay for."
The real emotions of a real Advent season are genuinely costly and consistently creative — that means they engage creation. In this week's epistle text Paul is "engaging" a real community of first generation Christians...