Welcoming Christ: An Advent Series -Week 2
The story’s told of man... a truck driver... who, being tired from a long day of driving, pulled into a lonely truck stop and slid-up to the counter. In a minute or two a waitress came out from the kitchen and asked, “What’ll it be?” The truck driver said, “All I want is a kind word and a piece of apple pie.” The waitress disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a slice of pie. She set the dish on the counter and started back into the kitchen. The truck driver said, “And the kind word?” The waitress turned around, leaned over the counter, and said, “If I were you, I wouldn’t eat the pie.”
A kind word? John the Baptist’s words don’t sound very kind... “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance...” (From Matthew 3:7-10).
I thought this was supposed to be the season of jollity of merriment! This is supposed to be Christmas! In the middle of a season where we’re supposed to be celebrating joy and hope and peace on earth, how in the world did we get John the Baptist?
Well, if you’ve been around Church, Sunday school very long, then you probably know how we got him, because you know that when it comes to matters of the Spirit, before good news is ever good news, it always feels like bad news first.
John has a word to give us that, on the surface, looks like anything but Good News... again, it doesn’t seem very kind... but by the end of the day, we may find that what he’s really offering when he warns us against “eating the pie” is something far more nourishing and beneficial than we could have ever imagined.
“Repent” is a pretty stark and demanding word, isn’t it? It’s a good, solid New Testament word, but it’s also a word that implies something isn’t right... something’s amiss... something needs to be corrected... and we sometimes take offence when others point out our need for correction.
Repent means, literally, “to turn around,” and John is calling for nothing less... to turn our lives around.
And the first thing we usually assume that means... is that we need to take a good look at where we are in life, deciding what changes may be called for. After all, if we’re intent on welcoming Christ this Advent... and acknowledging that the Light has come... the first thing that light will likely reveal... is the shadows it casts around and even within us.
But, the fact is... a “calling” - by it’s nature - always requires another’s voice, and the call to repent (to change) is no different. Which means (even though it’s a great place to start) it’s not our own self examination that’s likely to be the most successful evaluation of our lives.
No, that evaluation comes from others... from the people who love us most... the people who have the power and authority to confront us with the most honesty. Our spouse, siblings, parents, children, close friends... such are the only ones who care more about our well-being than about pleasing us... and so they hold the unique capacity to present us with “kind words” that may be off putting, but also happen to be true.
Who loves you fiercely enough to be that honest with you? Who do you love fiercely enough to be honest with?
E. Stanley Jones, one of the greatest missionaries of the 20th Century, understood the value of those who offered him “kind words” of whatever sort. He used to speak of his critics as “the unpaid guardians of my soul.”
Are there any unpaid guardians in your life right now?
Maybe your “guardian” is that person who keeps encouraging you... to back-off on the shopping and spending this Christmas... and remember that what those you love want most from you is not your stuff but you?
Maybe you’re the scrooge in the bunch, spending the whole season of Advent and Christmas saying, “Humbug!” Maybe somebody’s “kind word” to you is to loosen up, lighten up, open up to the possibilities of the Spirit of God working in and through the season in a way that transcends or even transforms what you may consider a pointless commercial spectacle.
Of course, it could be, for us, this Advent... that the most effective way of repenting... is to turn from some of the more secular aspects of Christmas... and instead of buying gifts for the gifted... maybe we buy some food for the hungry... or take time to read to children at the local elementary school... or visit with homebound people in the nursing home. Maybe we could choose to volunteer more... get more involved in church... in Sunday school.
What’s the Spirit nudging you to do and be? And who is the Spirit speaking through... who is that guardian of your soul, whose “kind words” may not be especially or always welcomed... but they’re just what you need to hear?
John the Baptist gets up in our faces year after year, and his message is always the same: those who would know Jesus Christ in a powerful, life transforming way... are called to turn away from the stale offerings of this world... and choose in its place, the Way that nourishes us to eternal life.
My friends... kinder words have never been spoken... and you and I should be offering one another - and the world - the same.