grew up strong in spirit, prepared the people for the coming of the Lord, and baptized them in the Jordan to wash away their sins. Help us, who have been baptized into Christ, to be ready to welcome him into our hearts, and to grow strong in faith by the power of the Spirit. We ask this through Jesus Christ, the light who is coming into the world. Amen. (from CofE)
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
John the Baptist’s words are always so startling in Advent. Not quite the mood the Department Stores are looking for right now, happy & upbeat.
When I think of welcoming someone, I don’t think of someone who is calling me a viper and warning me about the wrath to come. But our prayer I just said, calls us to do just that, welcome not only Jesus Christ into our hearts, but John the Baptist too, the messenger.
“Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”
What John expected of those in front of him was that they would change their ways, to seek out God, to live lives worthy of their creation. Fruits of life that repent of the narrow and violent way that so often seems to be the norm in his day and ours.
What if John had said, “Be afraid. Be very afraid. Build a wall. Protect yourself. Lock up the stranger. Don’t allow anyone in. Chase away anyone who looks suspicious. Something is very, very wrong here. Be afraid, I tell you, be very, very afraid.”
And you know what? Those people would have built that wall, chased away those strangers, they would have turned against one another because John the Baptist would have deepened the fear that we all have of death. And when your world is uncertain, as theirs was then and ours is today, the easiest thing to trigger is fear. Because deep down no one wants to die. And the most primal feeling is the desire to live and we will do anything to protect ourselves & family. And fear taps into our primal fear of death and our need to defend and preserve our life. So people would have rallied around John the Baptist had that been his rallying cry and they would have been more and more afraid. And they would have turned against their neighbor.
But that is not what John the Baptist did.
“What then shall we do?” asked the people. And John said, if you have two coats, share with someone who has none. If you have extra food, share with someone who is hungry. If someone owes you money, just take back what you need. Don’t cheat anyone. Don’t extort. Above all else, don’t run away, bear fruit. In other words. Love your neighbor. Share what you have. Do not be afraid.
But his message was not one of fight or flight. It was not a message of fear. What shall we do? Good works. Help one another. The antidote to fear. The antidote to sin. Repent. And help your neighbor.
National polls tell us that anxiety right now is as high as it was immediately after 9/11. So what should we do?
A long time ago, in one of those times when there were palaces, not with politicians and dictators, but real emperors. Emperors who were there because they were smart, they were wise, they were strong and it just happened that the emperor was away on some sort of business.If anxiety is higher than ever in our nation and world today. The antidote for this fear and anxiety has to be EVEN stronger. And the antidote is not MORE fear and anxiety. Anger fear and anxiety just creates more anger fear and anxiety. It feeds the demon and makes him stronger.
And in his absence, a monster came in. It was a demon. Ugly, frightening, terrifying. And because this monster was so frightening, all of the soldiers, guards and people who were supposed to stop visitors coming in at the wrong time - they froze in terror, allowing this monster to walk right into the center of the palace, and sit on the Emperor's throne.
And when that monster sat down on the Emperor's chair, that was going too far. So the guards came to their senses, said "Get out of here! You don't belong! Who do you think you are?! That is our Emperor's chair, you can't sit in there." And, at those few unkind words, and unkind deeds, that monster grew an inch bigger. More frightening, more smelly, and more offensive. And that really upset all the people in the palace. They got out their swords, they clenched their fists,
"If you don't move your butt, we'll carve it out with our swords, get out of here! Quick!" But every unkind word, unkind deed, even unkind thought, the monster grew an inch bigger every time, more ugly, more stinky, and the language got worse. And this had been going on a long time, when eventually the Emperor came back. And he came back into his palace, into his throne hall, and he saw this incredibly big, frightening monster there. It was so big, it took up most of the throne room…It was terrifying….. But, that Emperor, the reason he was the Emperor, was because of his great wisdom.
He saw that terrifying, huge, stinky monster, and understood what to do. He said the wonderful word "welcome". Welcome monster. Thank you for coming. And at that, the monster grew an inch smaller. Less ugly and his language got better. And the people around realized their mistakes. Instead of saying "get out", and getting angry, they started being kind to the monster. Welcome, you want something to eat? How about a pizza? Monster size. About three or four of them, got on the monster's feet to give him a foot massage. You've had a foot massage? Oh it's so rare getting a foot massage if you're a monster. That monster - "ooh, just over there a bit, ooh that's just right, there." They asked do you want a cup of tea or a cup of coffee…
They were so kind to that monster. And every kind act, word or thought, the monster grew an inch smaller, less ugly, less smelly, less offensive. And soon that monster was back to the size when he first came in. They didn't stop there. They carried on with their kindness so much, that soon that monster was so small, that one more act of kindness, and the monster vanished completely away. And that's how the monster was removed from the Emperor's palace.” (a story of the Buddha retold by Ajahn Brahm)
But you and I have chosen a different way. We have chosen the way of Christ, to welcome him and his message into our hearts and actions.
Trust your faith. Trust John the Baptist. And most of all trust the Prince of Peace. Not the Prince of Fear. Don’t ever listen to that guy. He’s feeding the anxiety filled, violent, anger eating demon. And making it grow. And grow. And grow.
And what then shall we do? Do you have an extra coat? Give it to someone who needs it. Do you have extra food? There are many among us who need it. Do you have a kind word for others? By all means say it!
Love your neighbor. Share what you have. Do not be afraid.
That, my brothers and sisters, is the Good News of God in Christ.
Keep reminding yourselves, your neighbors, and everyone you come into contact with. And the anxiety, violent, anger eating demon will slowly but surely disappear. Amen.