I am none too fond of Christmas. Mostly I don’t like what Christmas has become; one huge orgy of buying more things for people who already have too much. I don’t like how people get their knickers in a knot about saying Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, as if Christmas makes any difference in the way they actually live their lives. I don’t like the thin veneer of holiday cheer that hides franticness and fear, self-imposed impossible deadlines, and Christmas letters describing the Hallmark family. I don’t like how parents buy war toys and violent video games for their children as gifts that celebrate the Prince of Peace.
I don’t like the gluttony of food that adorns the season while so many people are hungry. I don’t like the phony charity that feeds the hungry at this time of the year, ignores them the rest of the year and refuses to address why they are hungry in the first place. I don’t like hearing “Hark the herald angels sing glory to the newborn King” over the Muzak at the pharmacy; it assures the ongoing need for my blood pressure meds.
Most of the hoopla of Christmas is an adventure in completely missing the point.
The antidote to the lunacy of it all is John the Baptist. He is a wiry, hyper man with wild hair and a beard showing the remnants of his last meal: bugs and honey. His clothing is more akin to rags, and he is yelling himself hoarse with a simple message. “Repent, you brood of vipers.” Don’t bother looking for cards with John’s message at the Hallmark store, you won’t find them.
John’s call is a steady heartbeat under the increasing noise of the season. He invites us to hear our own heartbeat; that place of our deepest longing and greatest hopes, the place of our shattering fears and wrenching loneliness. When we allow ourselves to think beyond our own needs, the sorry state of our world is also part of our own heartbeat and it carries its own brokenness and fears.
The antidote to all that breaks us and breaks around us is in John’s simple call to repent. It means to get a new heart, to receive what is offered from the abundant and gracious heart of the One in whose image we are made. The way of life to which we are invited in this season is a transformational way of loving the world. John announces that the old ways are getting the boot and the new way is one of radical acceptance of those who are different.
As a rising tide of hatred and intolerance threatens to drown all decency, it is a timely and needed message. As people of faith we are called beyond mere tolerance, a low bar at best, to genuine love and acceptance. It is far beyond what we are able to accomplish under our own steam. After all, there are times when we have trouble loving the people we are supposed to love. Complete strangers who look different, talk different and smell different are just beyond the pale. That’s why we need someone like John the Baptist telling us it isn’t just about us and what we can do on our own. It’s about getting a new heart and turning toward the Source of Love, the One who makes us far more than we can be on our own.
John isn’t the Source, he just points to the Source. Follow this guy Jesus, he’s the real deal. His teachings right what is wrong with the world and heal what is broken in us. Or to quote John, “repent you brood of vipers.”
This season is less about a baby than it is about a way of life. It is high time we stopped worshipping the baby and freaking ourselves out thinking about whether or not Mary had sex. Who cares? It is just a diversion away from the demands of a radically loving God whose abundance aches to flow through us.
All the ways we miss the point are diversions away from John’s unapologetic call to life lived in the transforming embrace of a God who dreams of a new world where peace is the norm, there is enough for all, our fears are transformed by love and our deepest loneliness is met with renewed purpose.
We don’t have to eat bugs and honey, but let’s hope the whole repentance thing catches on.