Summary: This is a time of the year for cliches and spiritual sappy-talk. John the Baptist offers a fresh perspective.
Mark 1:1-8 WHAT WOULD JOHN THE BAPTIST SAY TO YOU?
Sometimes, when you hear the same thing all the time, it starts to become less and less meaningful. For example, right now, at this time in the year, the newspaper, the TV, and the radio are all saying the same thing: “There is a special sale going on right now. JCPenny is having a special, one-day only sale. Sears is having a special, three hour sale, Saturday only, from 7AM until 10AM. Kohl’s is having a yellow dot sale – some things are marked down 50 to 75 percent off! You better get there fast, because there are incredible deals at these sales. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for you, and you don’t want to miss it.” When you see these commercials or read these ads, you feel a sense of urgency. At first, you think, “Wow, I really don’t need anything, but it sounds too good to miss.”
But after awhile, this kind of advertising becomes less and less meaningful. You start to realize that JCPenny has one-day-only sales all the time. The Saturday only, three hour sale at Sears will happen again, there’s no doubt about that. And when you go to the Kohl’s yellow dot sale, you see that most of the items with yellow dots are things you really don’t want. The advertising, the sales, all becomes less and less meaningful. And the reason why is because we have become saturated with advertising language. It all sounds the same.
I wonder if this is how it is as people think about the spiritual aspect of Christmas. What is the real meaning of Christmas? I wonder if our society has become saturated with the same cliches, the same spiritual sappy-talk you hear every December. So much talk about love and sharing and caring and singing and hugging! Christmas! A time for family. A time for charity. Every day you hear this, in between the advertising for sales at local stores. And then all the churches jump on the bandwagon and say the same sorts of things. Come to our church, they all say. We are the friendliest. We have the best pastor. We have the best Sunday School. We have the best worship services. Come to us, and you will experience all the love and sharing and caring and hugging and singing that you’re looking for this time of the year. Are we becoming saturated with spiritual sappy-talk during the month of December?
And then you meet John the Baptist, and you realize right away that he is different from all the others. I don’t think you’d see him at any of those one-day sales at JCPenny – we’re told that he wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt, probably homemade, around his waist. Instead of Thanksgiving turkey, we’re told that he ate locusts and wild honey. He probably would have done well on the television series Survivor. But he probably would have been the first one voted off the island, because of the things he said – his message. He doesn’t use that spiritual sappy-talk you hear every December. He doesn’t use all those cliches about caring and sharing and family and giving and hugging and singing that you hear this time of the year. You can tell right away that he’s not a salesman – John the Baptist will not try to sweet talk you into anything. And he’s certainly not a politician, trying to match his words to whatever the popular opinion of the day is. He’s a breath of fresh air. This guy doesn’t care what people say or think about him. And his message is one that hits you in the heart.
What would it be like to meet John the Baptist? If John the Baptist sat across from you at your kitchen table, what do you think he would say to you? That is what we are going to talk about on this second Sunday of the Advent season. Today we have lit the Bethlehem candle, reminding us that The Night in Bethlehem is not far away, right around the corner. How do we prepare? How do we get ready? John the Baptist has words to share with you this morning.
The first thing John the Baptist would do is pull out his credentials. “I’m not just another guy trying to get you to come to church,” John would say to you. He had a special job – the prophet Isaiah talks about John when he wrote, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, a voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” John had been spoken about in the Old Testament – his job was to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. That’s what John the Baptist would do to you if you talked to him face to face - he would work on preparing you to celebrate Christ’s birth. And he would work on preparing you for the second coming of Christ. His credentials? He had been mentioned in the Old Testament hundreds of years earlier.