a sign, please!

10 12 2010

John the Baptist reappears in this Sunday’s Gospel text, from Matthew 11. This time, John’s in prison, has heard about what the Messiah is doing, and sends someone to ask Jesus, “Are you the one, or should we keep waiting…?” From our viewpoint, knowing what we do about Jesus and John both, this seems a bit strange. Wasn’t John the one who was so in tune with God’s Spirit? Was he confused? Having a “senior moment”? Doubting, since he was trapped, in jail…? Wanting his disciples to seek the answer for themselves?

If I were him, I’d want a sign. A big, clear, neon sign (all the lights working, by the way…), with a big neon arrow, pointing to Jesus, saying,  “This is, 100%-guaranteed, God’s Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ!”

I’m not sure what John’s thoughts were, when sending someone to ask Jesus for clarification. And if I once knew, I have forgotten. But I sympathize with John the Baptist, an obvious “let’s get to work” kind of guy, who was stuck in jail. Hearing reports, perhaps… wondering… lots of time to think and let your mind wander. It’s like those familiar seasons of waiting. And even if we might KNOW what is true and we might know that God’s promises are true, at times we still want a sign.

The other day Jim, Kajsa, Abby and I took our walk down to the baseball field below our church. Jim found this baseball… a sign of a season gone by, and a season to come.

baseball

Except for a forgotten base, now partially covered with sand, there is little sign of a current baseball season. But the baseball, found on the frozen ground beyond the field, reminds us of a season to come.

Often I feel as though the only “signs” we get from God are like the found baseball. Initially there’s an excitement at the find.. oooh, look! a baseball! Then the reality that the season is over…and the next promised season is not yet here. Completely.

Someday, God might shock me and give me a clear neon sign, complete with an arrow pointing to the direction I need–or think I need. In the meantime, I’ll find hope in the signs of God’s kingdom, God’s presence, God’s light in this season: the people of God bringing about God’s kingdom here and now, in our daily lives.





Christmas Trappings

2 12 2010

This Sunday I’m preaching on a John the Baptist text: Matthew 3:1-12. John the Baptist is one of those people from the Bible who I love to read about—but he makes me uncomfortable enough that I’m glad he’s not preaching here in Harleysville! He shows up in Judea, looking and probably smelling rather weird, and preaching, “Repent!”… and “Produce fruit worthy of repentance!” Yeah, not a message we like to hear.

Scott Hoezee, (from the Center for Excellence in Preaching), observes, that if John the Baptist were here today, he might be calling on Christians to repent about the way we actually celebrate Advent and Christmas. Touché.

Christmas Trappings... waiting to be unpacked

The way I celebrate Advent and Christmas reflects an honest struggle. I want to celebrate Christ’s birth, anticipate his coming, and live into the reality of being a person of hope in a world overcome with problems. Yet I also love the Christmas trappings. I’m not sure I love the word “trappings”, but I understand it, and give in to it. Christmas trappings, for me, includes the decorations, some shopping, lights…lights…lights, Christmas baking, music… yes, I even like the guy from the North Pole. No, I don’t believe in him. Yes, I like him. Mostly.

It’s not that I think we Christians shouldn’t have fun, or enjoy the season. But despite my good intentions, I end up focusing more on the secular nature of Christmas than I want to. Or than I want to want to. And it’s not even that I have no religious decorations, nativities, candles, spiritual ornaments… I do. And I love them, and love to look at them throughout the season. But I still struggle.

“Repent!” John preached.

Ok.. I’ll repent. Then what? Then what do I do with this tension? I have lots of answers… and I also have Christmas decorations that I’m going to unpack. But the reality is, I’m so thankful that John the Baptist doesn’t live in Harleysville. Because he makes me a bit too uncomfortable.

And maybe he should.