John the Baptist sought to expose the truth about the unfaithfulness of the Israelites and to challenge the status quo of power and authority.
John preached repentance and baptised those who were willing to confess their sin. When the Pharisees and Scribes appeared he called them names. He reviled them. He pulled no punches.
This wild man from the desert places with his camel hair clothing and unruly behaviour preached repentance and so declared that people were sinners who needed to turn back to God.
In this John becomes the midwife for the coming of Jesus. He is leading the ante-natal class as he prepares the people of God for the incarnation of God.
John’s message was that God’s people and even more so their leaders had strayed from God’s ways.
John’s message sits as uncomfortably now as it did back then. We live in a theological and spiritually stunted age which shies away from naming sin.
Yet naming sin, even in our lives, is not very difficult. It is easy for me to point the finger at us all in crass sentimentalism and consumerism through this Christmas period. I read this week this statement on Byron Smith’s blog:
Today is the first day of the liturgical new year. At this time of year, Christians await the coming of the Messiah; pagans go shopping. Christians yearn for a new world; pagans max out the credit card. Christians fast and pray; pagans hurry around in fear of missing a bargain or not having the right present for everyone.
Peace on earth: it's a promise based on the coming of the King; it's an experience tasted by those who wait for his advent.
I reflected on the behaviour of many people in the Kairos congregations, amongst my friends and even in my own family and decided that many of us look more like pagans than Christians.
But we are told not to speak of sin and of people as sinners because it is too negative, too demoralising. Don’t be negative, this is the season for joy, but my question is does everyone get a share in this consumerist joy?
We celebrate the ascension of humanity and our command of all things. Our scientific know how has made us arrogant. Those who speak of sin are seen as too conservative or old fashion – trying to give people a guilt complex and destroy their self esteem.
Yet the experience of many in this age which has been liberated from the talk of sin is not joyfully abundant life but anxiety and depression. The weight of the world is upon us for we are meant to be perfect. We use words like progress and growth to describe our journey as a human race to indicate we are getting better as people, but problems still plague us.
John’s message that we are a sinful people holds as true now as it did for the Jews so long ago.
This is difficult news to hear but it also explains a heck of a lot. Even when we seek to do good, often our actions can have unseen consequences which break down and destroy rather than build up.
The proclamation of the failure of Israel to be faithful to God’s promises and God’s faithfulness is to become the message on which the good news of the incarnation is to be built.
John is preparing the way for Jesus who comes to create the reconciliation needed between God and all people and ultimately the whole creation within his life, in his very flesh.
John’s call to repentance sets the context. As people who seek to turn to God, even those who repented and were baptised, we still need God’s help, God’s intervention in our predicament.
We cannot climb the ladder of holiness up to God, yet the good news is that in God’s grace God chooses to come and walk among us in Jesus and to heal our disease.
This may seem a negative view of humanity but God spins this negativity into a message of hope. Hope that our relationships can be reconciled, hope that we are loved in spite of our failures, hope that beyond our personal experiences of life and death God is and God loves and God redeems.
This is the good news that John prepares the way for. It is the good news that we prepare our hearts for as we approach the celebration of Jesus birth. It is the good news that we proclaim in a world that is so often blind to sin and its consequences.