Shopping these days feels like sensory overload. We’re bombarded with messages: Your home can be the best with these trees, ornaments, garlands, and nicknacks. Here’s the present for you. Get ready—Christmas is coming! December and year round, our culture tells us to look good and to have the right stuff. That what we have and how we look determines who we are.
We want to have our living spaces in order before anyone comes over. Don’t drop by because it—and I—might not be together. This is hard for me. I have always strived to keep my rooms organized with my loose ends and junk nicely hidden under the bed, in the closet, or under carefully draped fabric.
While it may not be an orderly space, what’s particularly important to your presenting image? We’re taught to consider what we wear, the stuff we own, the people we know, the places we’ve been, and what we have done. We consider what we let others see and for what they don’t see. Get ready—someone is looking at us!
In our Gospel text, someone is coming. God comes to John in the wilderness: not a fun place out in nature, but a harsh land where few people go. John looks odd, dressed in camel’s hair eating locusts and honey as Matthew and Mark tell us. An odd man in an odd place, and lots of people came from all around the region. John is not fancy nor fashionable, but many people listen and do what he invites. John is not the awaited guest; he points to Jesus. Get ready—God is coming!
I don’t know if you have ever been to Compline here at the Monastery. If you have, you will know that it is our custom to read the obituary of a brother on the anniversary of his death. Now not to boast, but I will take the credit, or perhaps the blame for not only reviving this custom, but also writing from scratch some of the obituaries and editing others. This was a project I did when I was a novice. Now after listening to them for nearly 30 years, I am aware that some of them were badly written and others seemed to be just a list of dates. A few of them were eye rollingly embarrassing and have caused more than a few sniggers over the years. This fall, after I moved back to the monastery I decided it was time to fill in the gaps (we were completely missing some obituaries) and to rewrite the really deadful ones.
I have been working on this project for a couple of months, and I think I can now say with Father Gross, whom some of you will remember, that I now know more of the real history of the Society, that I could write a scandalous best seller. But don’t get your hopes up. I am not going to do that.
When we began posting sermons on our website we decided to give them titles. Today’s title has a kind of self-helpy ring to it. It’s: “Releasing Your Inner ‘Locusts and Wild Honey Eater.’”
Luke puts John the Baptist into a political context, noting who was emperor, who was governor, who the local rulers were, and—significantly—who the high priests were. The temple priests in Jerusalem were in cahoots with the secular powers, which, of course led to corruption. Later in the story we see Jesus driving money changers out of the temple to protest the corruption of the political-religious power structure.
John’s protest comes in a different form. His father, Zecharia, was a temple priest and priesthood was a hereditary privilege. John would likely have seen the corruption from inside the system. He opted out of the family business, preferring the wilderness to collusion with corrupt powers. John is the forerunner of Jesus in this political sense—Jesus did much the same thing by dissociating himself from official structures. It is outside these structures that the word of God comes to both John and Jesus. “…the word of God came to John, son of Zecharia in the wilderness.” Not in the temple, not in the halls of power, but in the wilderness.