Luke 1:5-7 and Mark 1:1-8
Preached FCCW, December 3, 2017
Friday morning, while posting the daily UCC Devotional to the Church Facebook page, a post in my news feed from the Westminster Police Department caught my eye.
It wasn’t the usual warning about telephone scammers, an Amber Alert or even a traffic advisory.
This post announced that Santa Claus is coming to town.
That’s right! He’s coming here to Westminster!
The announcement listed the times and places where he would be, and detailed instructions to follow if you wanted to meet the jolly old elf in person.
And so, the expectation has been set and now the waiting begins.
For many of us, our very first lesson in high expectations, patience, and waiting, was learned in childhood, during the weeks leading up to Christmas.
What the Church refers to as Advent, and what the secular culture calls “shopping days.”
By Christmas Eve, the anticipation of Santa’s imminent arrival gripped us like a fever that made it hard to get to sleep and launched us out of our beds at the crack of dawn.
For the Israelites, their greatest lesson in high expectations, patience and waiting dragged on for something like 400 years.
The Book of Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament.
It ends with God promising that a prophet like the great prophet Elijah, would one day come and prepare all people for the Messiah who would deliver them.
But for the next four centuries there were no prophets, and God remained silent.
Until John the Baptist showed up.
Dressed in camel’s hair and wearing a leather belt around his waist, just like Elijah used to do.
Proclaiming a message of repentance and forgiveness and personal transformation.
Like Elijah once did.
And like Elijah, John was not a jolly, ho-ho-ho kind of character.
Maybe a little more like a Grinch than a Santa.
Not the sort of visitor you would leave milk and cookies for on Christmas Eve, because his appetite went more in the direction of stuff like locusts and honey.
If he came today, you wouldn’t see parents lined up in shopping malls to have their children’s picture taken sitting on his lap.
And yet, people poured out of the marketplaces of Jerusalem and from all over the countryside in a kind of reverse Black Friday Door Buster event, to go out into the wilderness to hear his message.
John didn’t mind not being the main attraction, anyway.
He preferred it, actually.
He said, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”
In a wealthy household, there was a hierarchy of servants.
At the very bottom of that hierarchy was the servant who had the duty of greeting visitors by removing their sandals and washing their dirty feet.
There was no greater discrepancy in worth between human beings than the gap between the owner of the household and the slave who untied his sandals.
Unless you weren’t even worthy of that job.
For a popular prophet like John to show that much humility by describing himself as being that much below the person he was preparing people to meet;
it must have lit a fire in the imaginations and expectations of those who heard his words.
It was, in its own strange way, a “Santa Claus is coming to town” message that John proclaimed.
Except it wasn’t Santa in a red suit who was coming to town.
It was the Messiah that Israel had waited four long centuries for.
Like Kris Kringle, though, this Messiah who was coming to town knows if you’ve been bad or good.
That’s why John told people to repent and be baptized by him in the Jordan River, so they would be ready to receive the gift the long-hoped-for Messiah was bringing with him.
And what gift was that?
Well, it wasn’t an X-Box, an i-Phone, or an Audi tied up with one of those gigantic bows like in the TV ads.
John said that the one who was coming after him would baptize people with the Holy Spirit.
In other words, he would be bringing them the opportunity to enter a renewed and intimate relationship with God.
The gift he brought would be the gift of salvation and wholeness.
For you and I though, Advent isn’t such a big mystery and the ending isn’t much of a surprise.
We know who came to town in a Bethlehem manger.
But, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t living our own Advent.
There are many ways that our lives are suspended by a thin thread of hope as we wait for Jesus to come to where we are with the gifts only he can deliver.
Maybe what we are waiting for is the gift of health, for ourselves or someone we love.
Maybe the gift we need is the gift of a sense of purpose in life.
Perhaps, the gift we have been waiting for is a world where all people live in peace and justice and abundance.
These aren’t gifts we can find in stores, or even on Amazon.
That’s why we will always need Advent.
And why we always need someone like John the Baptist to remind us of the One who already knows exactly what we need without our having to give him a list.
Because we always live by hope.
A hope that all the bright lights and fancy gifts can never fulfill.
Copyright 2017 Raymond Medeiros