Summary: John the Baptist, and why repentence comes before cheer in Christmas.
The season of Christmas is upon us! At what point did this realisation hit you?
When you saw decorations going up in shopping centres - something which
always seems to happen way to early (ie. October)?
When your family first rang you to organise a Christmas luncheon or dinner,
which never seems to happen early enough?
When you received your first card. I got mine a week ago!
For me, it’s always the arrival of John the Baptist - that distinctive Christmas figure, whom the church, in its wisdom, seems determined to confront us with every year at about this time. That aggressive desert man with his animal-hair clothing and his bush-tucker diet and his own distinctive brand of Christmas cheer:
Bear fruits that befit repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.? (Luke 3:8-9)
I’ve expanded on the John the Baptist Christmas merchandising range this year. The John the Baptist Christmas cards have proven to be staggeringly popular over the years. Each year people seem to think of new persons to send these to. This year I’ve added a ’John the Baptist Christmas decoration’. It’s a project for the whole family - colour, glue, cut-out, stick-up, enjoy.
He sticks out like a sore thumb. John’s gaunt, haggard figure collides head on with the more familiar Yuletide figures - Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and the little drummer boy, let alone the fat, jolly elf in the red plush suit with a bag full of gifts for those who have too much already.
John’s appearance is distinctive. John was a man who had never cut his hair. At thirty-something years old, his hair would have been a tangled birds nest of knots and grease, falling down in tangled locks over the camel skins that he wore to keep him warm in the desert.
John’s smell would have been distinctive. This can’t be communicated very clearly through either the card or the decoration of course, but anyone who has a solid diet of locusts and wild honey could be expected to have a very distinctive odor about him.
Most significantly, John’s message was distinctive - blunt, aggressive, straightforward and honest. ’Repent’ he says. ’Come and take a cold dip in the Jordan and ask God to forgive your sins and prepare for the coming of the messiah.’
It’s hard to know where to put him on the Christmas tree, isn’t it? John has so little in common with the other figures that adorn our trees. Of course, John was distinctive in his own day too.
There weren’t many who looked or smelt or spoke like John did then - any more then than now. There were plenty of priests and clergy, but they all lived in the city, not out in the desert. They all dressed properly like priests. They weren’t dressed in camel’s hair and leather. These priests all ate decent meals, looked like decent people, and probably gave nice sermons.