It was 1984. I was in my freshman year of college. I spent Thanksgiving with a bunch of strangers in a small town outside Atlanta. We ate McDonald’s cheeseburgers at the home of a guy named TK, who had transformed his backyard to host a Pro-Am skateboarding contest.
It was there in the Georgia wilderness, I met Mike McGill, a pro skater who had traveled all the way from southern California for the competition. As a novice skater, I loved watching pros like Mike push himself to new heights and limits. That weekend I was not disappointed.
In his final run of the contest, Mike did the unimaginable. With enough speed under his wheels, he shot up into the heavens. And for a brief second, gravity no longer existed. As he floated 25 feet in the air, Mike grabbed his board and began to flip his body upside down. If this wasn’t crazy enough, he threw in a 540-degree rotation into the mix. With the grace of an Olympic diver, he landed his move with effortless perfection, winning the contest hands down. Mike McGill was a pioneer. His signature move, the McTwist, has gone down in the history books, as Mike has forever change the world of extreme sports.
Pioneers change the way we do things. They stretch and bend and break boundaries. They defy and dismantle reality. John the Baptist was a pioneer. Part rebel, part unpredictable wild man, John defies the status quo, breaks the barriers of religion and ritual, and paves the way for the coming of the Christ.
With wild eyes and tangled hair, his brow furled and finger pointed, he is, as Rachel Held Evens aptly describes, “the guy you’d avoid bumping into in the Walmart parking lot.” Pioneers push the limits. They make us uncomfortable. And change us in the process. John did it when he screamed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The son of a temple priest, John is a good Jewish boy who follows his father’s footsteps. But eventually John abandons the temple for the wilderness. He forgoes the ceremonial purification pools for the wild, flowing rivers. He lives on only what God gives him, wild honey and locusts. “He calls people to a single, dramatic baptism to symbolize a reoriented heart.” He is a voice crying in the wilderness; telling us “God was on the move. Everything was about to change.”
John the Baptist was a pioneer who ushered in the advent of a new relationship between God and humanity.
Like a skater launching into the air, John knew the walls and rituals of the Temple could no longer contain God’s movement. God isn’t just going to sit around and wait for us to come to him. Instead, God is coming to us. “And God, in God’s relentless love, would allow no mountain or hill, no ideology or ritual, or no requirement or law, to obstruct the way.” Everyone will see the salvation of the Lord.
John tells us this salvation comes from a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance! Sin! Isn’t this message usually saved for our Lent? Advent is supposed to be a time to look forward to the coming of the Christ with hopeful anticipation, right? So why does John want us to weight ourselves down with the realization of how screwed up we are? It’s important to remember that the good news of repentance is the good news of salvation for all of us.
For you who are suffering or living with guilt, those who have made poor life choices or squandered opportunities to make it right, you who have fallen off the wagon, or don’t feel worthy enough or too tainted to be redeemed…repentance is the good news.
It’s more than a call to stop sinning. It’s a way to be freed from it, a way to give our pain and hurt over to God’s love. John paved that way. But Jesus perfected it.
The second Advent candle is lit to remind us that as we wait for Christ to come, and come again, God’s love surrounds us. When we watch the flame flicker we see that God’s love is always moving. God’s Kingdom isn’t up there somewhere. It’s right here in our midst, moving through the wind of the wilderness and flowing in the wild water of the rivers. It burst through the air and moves in the most unpredictable, surprising, and transformative ways.
Through God’s love and with God’s love, we are able to be more trusting, more loving, more faithful, and more able to soar to new heights. God gives us all we need to live godly lives, and to be pioneers in a world in dire need of God’s redeeming love.
In a dirty, filthy stable, God give us the gift of love in the fragile and vulnerable babe. On the violent and brutal cross, God gives us the gift of love in the fragile and vulnerable man. Just as Christ leads us through life, he also takes us through death, to be with God forever. All will see the salvation of God. The Incarnation would be meaningless without the Easter resurrection. They are one in the same groundbreaking and earthshattering action. Likewise, Advent and Lent are a time wait and purification, a time of renewal and preparation to receive God’s love.
At his birth, Jesus taught us the way of righteousness. By his resurrection, he gives us the assurance that no matter how far we stray from doing what God has called us to do, we are never beyond the boundaries of God’s love. Jesus left us this meal as a reminder of God’s ultimate act of love. So come and partake in the one feast that breaks all boundaries and moves among us always.
Many have come from the East and the West, the North and the South to receive the love that is shared at this table. This church welcomes all to meet God here. No matter where you are in your faith journey or your lack of faith, we invite you to eat of this bread and drink from this cup; to savor, delight, and feast on God’s love.
God’s love has freed us from our sins and empowered us with the spirit to live without prejudice, to give without fear, and to have faith that can move large mountains and straighten crooked paths. Come not because you have to, but because you want to.
(Prayer of Consecration)
John was a pioneer. He came and fulfilled the prophecy by preparing the way of our Lord Jesus Christ, who on the night that he was betrayed and handed over to his death, sat with his disciples to celebrate the Passover meal.
He took the bread, and when he had blessed it he broke it saying...
“As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you show my death until I come again.”
Works CitedBible, NRSV. Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 3:2-6, 15-18.
Anderson, T. Denise. "Living by the Word." Christian Century 132, no. 24 (Nov 2015).
Charles, Gary. Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion. Edited by David Barlett and Kimberly Bracken Long Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.
Evens, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Nashville: Nelson, 2015.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”