2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A
John the Baptist in Walmart?
I wonder what John the Baptist would have thought of the celebration of Christmas in 2019? A man whose clothes were made of camel’s hair (itchy) and who ate locusts (a desert source of protein) and wild honey (not pasteurized) probably would be shocked to enter a Walmart in October and see glittery displays of trees and plump men in white beards. Though he wouldn’t recognize the actual music coming through the speakers and most of the themes (snow, Santa, stockings, mistletoe) would be foreign to him, if he could understand English, John might feel a little familiarity with some of the carols. Maybe that would bring him a little comfort. Or not. My guess is that even many of the Nativity scenes might throw him for a loop.
On the other hand, John didn’t preach about Christmas. John preached about Advent, Christ’s coming. So maybe the actual stuff in Walmart wouldn’t bother him—none of it is really Advent-related anyway. And maybe he’d actually be ok with the timing after all. Shouldn’t we be getting ready for Jesus no matter the season?
When my children were small, I was always on a simplicity kick, especially around the holidays. It was driven in part by the fact we lived in an apartment in New York City, and grandparents like to go all-out at the holidays. And I really did want to teach my kids that gifts don’t necessarily translate to love. But, to be honest, it was also a bit selfish. I don’t like a lot of clutter and stuff, and frankly, I didn’t want to have to deal with all the gifts.
Then I read a blog post that a friend of mine, who also lived in an apartment with two small children above our concrete jungle, wrote. She said, “It’s not about simplicity. It’s about gratitude.” I think her point is that the heart of the giver and recipient that matters.
Spirit and intent, I think, is what John the Baptist is talking about when he reads the Pharisees and the Sadducees the riot act. They have come with the throngs to hear him, and perhaps be baptized, and John lets loose with, “You brood of vipers!” (v. 7) and a lot more that probably made them cringe. Mad enough that eventually they weren’t unhappy when he was killed.
We don’t know why they came. Perhaps they came to hear this man who attracted throngs. Perhaps they came to be baptized. Or perhaps they were on a reconnaissance mission for information on a rogue Jew so they could go back and tell their people how wrong John was. We don’t know. But John seems to know they weren’t there for the right reason.
Advent is all about preparing our hearts for Christ. There’s nothing wrong with getting our houses and tables and trees ready too, but it’s the intent behind the preparations that matters. Why are we doing it? Are we getting ready for Christ’s birth or for a 2019 Christmas celebration? Would John the Baptist recognize that our preparations are for the One “more powerful than” him (v.11)?