[Having lived across much of Canada’s vast landscape, Darrell Buchanan, with his wife Darlene, teaches Bible at Western Christian College in Regina, SK. He contributed this post to a 2004 Advent Blog, and I’m happy to re-post it here.]
Ask anyone in the New Testament for directions to Bethlehem and they’ll say, “Go out to the desert and keep going until you get to the River Jordan. You can’t miss it. There you will find a man, standing waist deep in the water, baptizing people. That’s John the Baptizer. If you want to go to Bethlehem, you’ve got to start there. There is no other way to get there.”
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all say that if you want to go to Bethlehem, you have to start with John the Baptizer. If you don’t start there, you will never understand what Bethlehem is all about. You may visit Bethlehem and even see the place where it is thought the baby was born in a manger, but you will never really experience Bethlehem until you ask for directions from John the Baptizer.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go out to the desert and ask directions from John because he’s like a broken record, saying only one thing. He has only one sermon and it is summed up with one word: “Repent!“
What kind of a preacher has only one sermon? And John doesn’t even soften it with jokes, illustrations, or stories. He just roars like a lion in the wilderness. I can hear his “Repent!” echoing off the barren landscape.
Is it any surprise that he’s out there in the desert? No doubt, he has destroyed
every church he preached for! John the Baptizer just can’t get into the
Christmas spirit. No wonder he’s not on any Christmas cards . . . he may be the
original Grinch who stole Christmas! This is not the time of year when I want to
hear his message.
Yet, all four gospels say the same thing. They all say, if I want to go to Bethlehem to see for myself, if I want to find out who Jesus really is for myself, if I want to really know Jesus in my life – then first I have to go see John.
So I might as well do it. I might as well get it over with.
There is old John. He comes up out of the water. He’s been in the River Jordan so long that his legs are blue. He says to me, “Are you planning to go to Bethlehem again this year?” I say, “Yes, I will be there in little more than two weeks.“
Then John asks, “Are you going to give your loyalty to the powers of this world or to Christ? And when you make up your mind, then come out to see me here and I’ll tell you what you must do to really celebrate the meaning of Christmas.”
I knew he was going to say that. John says it every year and I don’t want to hear it. What I want to hear is that God came into this world the way it is – so the way it is must not be so very bad. It may even be the way God likes it.
But John won’t let me get away with that. John says that God came into this world to change it, to transform it, and that God wants to begin with me. John says Christmas means nothing less than an invasion of this world by God. A new age is here. God’s rule has come.
So John is waiting. He’s waiting there in the water until I am ready to hear the real meaning of Christmas, until I am ready to see that what happened then makes a difference in what happens now.