During Advent some clergy move Créche figures around the church as a way of telling children the story of Joseph and Mary and the shepherds and wise men moving toward the barn in Bethlehem.
Imagine a priest adding to the usual mix on this second Sunday of the Advent season to illustrate today's Gospel. This would be a hard-to-buy figure, but it might suffice to use a toy professional wrestler. This would surely puzzle the children, but once they realize that this figure represents John the Baptizer (also known as John the Baptist), they might begin to learn something about this prophet of old.
More likely, adults will ask themselves, "John the Baptizer? What's he doing here-invading this nice, sweet story?" They would have a right to be a little confused, because this new figure, like today's Gospel story, takes the listener 30 years past the familiar account of the characters in the manger scene. Nevertheless, today's lesson gives us John the Baptizer, despite his lack of sweetness and nicety.
John's message is a central theme of Advent. It tells of the coming of Jesus -- his coming, not as a baby in Bethlehem, but as the man he was born
to become -- the Christ who is savior of the world.
This John invades our simple manger scene -- just as his message invades our happy and pleasant lives. In the days immediately before Jesus began his ministry, God sent his prophet John to prepare the way for his coming. This wild and wooly prophet went out and, in his zeal, invaded the traditions of the religious people of his day. Like a street-corner preacher, he showed up unexpectedly at the River Jordan, without a permit, without a license, without a diploma -- but with a passion to speak God's truth.
In today's Gospel, we hear St. Matthew asserting simply that in those days, John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness of Judea. He burst onto the scene without the consent of any authority-except his call from God. In this invasion, John spoke of another invasion to come -- an invasion that would be mighty and lasting. He said that God was sending the most powerful leader ever to defeat all the powers the earth could muster.
"This invasion is underway. Jesus is coming," John said to those of old, and says to us still. "Jesus is coming, and you better get ready for what he brings and what he reveals about God and about us."
John the Baptizer invades the spirits of his hearers with a word of judgment -- his way of making us prepare for the coming Christ.
To the Pharisees and Sadducees John said, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor.' Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
John calls us to self-examination and confession -- demands that we look in the mirror at the reality of our lives, at the dirt and sin that separate
us from God.
In some ways, a current manifestation of John's invasion comes as a result of the September 11 Attack on America -- a horrible invasion of our peaceful and happy lives. It is not that God invaded us with the terrorism, but the death and destruction of that horrible day exposed our vulnerability as human beings. The terrorists invaded our simplicity and naivete, and made us afraid and confused and extraordinarily anxious.
Can we let John invade our thoughts by hearing him call us to look deeply at what we are without God -- and to look at what part we may have to play in contributing, by action or inaction, to a broken world. Can we let John invade our complacency enough to heed his call by making honest reflection on the causes that might contribute to hatred toward America that so many feel? Can we let John invade our serenity by examining the global
role played by injustice, inequality, prejudice, ignorance, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, powerlessness, and hopelessness? Can we let John invade our indifference by asking what part we play in these dis-eases?
If we can work through the discomfort of examining how much we are like a brood of vipers, how much we have born bad fruit, we can move on to an equally creative invasion. John invades the spirits of his hearers with a second word-a word of hope. The judgment is not the last message, only the first. The reason for self-examination and confession is so we can repent. That means to turn ourselves around and face God-ward. It means changing for the better. And if we are serious about changing, it means that we can begin to build a new day.
We can build with a firm resolve to choose God's way, rather than our own. Each of us must listen to this rough prophet, this John the Baptizer, who invades our pleasant Advent story. We listen to him in this season by preparing the way for the Lord. Preparing the way so God may renew us and change us into people who act and live by following his commands and loving his children.
Knowing that we are vulnerable and remembering that we are mortal can lead us to find a greater reliance on, and faith in, God in new and deeper ways; and our spiritual views and religious perspectives can transform us. Recognizing our complicity, by acts of commission or omission, can propel us into helping in the healing of a broken world.
John invades our manger scenes, making clear the power and meaning of a familiar story. John invades our lives to make sure we know that the Jesus who is to be born into our lives is coming to set us free from the materialistic and self-centered values of the world. John invades our lives to make sure we know that Jesus is coming to save us, so we may become his children and follow in his way.