The countdown to Christmas is on. And time is pressing. There is a certain
urgency in the air about getting everything finished before shops close on the 24th of December. This is the prophet we hear; the voice of one calling out in the desert. Yes, consumerism is the modern day prophet and it is calling us as a matter of urgency. You only need to go to the shops to see there are close similarities between the Prophet John the Baptist and the prophet consumerism
TV’s and radios, newspaper adds and junk mail all cry out with a matter of urgency; luring us out into the malls and shopping centres. ‘Buy now, for the time of Christmas is near’. We are called to spend money on things we would other wise not buy, purely for the sake of Christmas; the urgency of Christmas Eve. And it is a message that is very hard to resist, after all, we live in the kingdom of consumerism where the only prophets we hear about, is the profits the companies make. And many of us don’t even realize we live in this kingdom or if we do, we don’t want to but don’t know what else to do.
I am currently reading a book called ‘Advance Australia Where’, by Hugh Mackey, and in it he spills a lot of ink trying to fathom why Australians are such consumerists. He calls it the ‘empty-feed’ and goes on to say ‘filling yourself up but not getting enough nutrition – is not just a food issue: it’s a metaphor for many of the things we do in a consumerists, materialistic society where even so-called pleasures often come in sophisticated, packaged and branded forms…like having a swift inhalation of expensive rose essence instead of taking time to smell, let alone grow, the roses themselves.’
Yes, the prophet consumerist is calling loudly and with urgency this Christmas, ‘return to the shops for Christmas is near.’ And so we buy. Mackey makes an interesting discovery about ourselves saying ‘many thoughtful Australians are now wondering whether they are living as if materialism is indeed one of their core values, and the one they are most successful in passing on to their children.’
John the Baptist called people out into the desert. Lured them out with a message of urgency. ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’. The people must turn from their unbelief and turn from their sins and be ready for a new Kingdom that was about to come.
This call to repentance by the prophet John is spoken to the people of God, those already in his kingdom and those already worshipping in the temple and receiving forgiveness of sins. So John’s call to repentance is more than just a call to be sorry, its about being converted; about turning to God, to become once again the flock of the divine shepherd. He is calling them away from God’s final judgement to conversion and true faith in God Nothing is mentioned about repentance of a particular sin, only the sin of turning away from God by their actions and life style. Or as Mackey would put it ‘their core values were wrong.’ That is why John the Baptist says to the Pharisees ‘produce fruit in keeping with repentance’
Yes, John is standing in the River Jordan, the same river they had crossed to enter the Promised Land, calling the people of God to a second Exodus. Calling them to enter the waters once again through baptism to repent or be converted out of their own kingdom of a blasé attitude to God; the once saved always saved faith, to a living active faith with core values based in God’s mercy upon sinners.
Perhaps it is time once again to listen afresh to the words of John. To listen and act upon his call. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ ‘But I do’ we say. ‘I repent of my sins, I come to church each Sunday to confess and receive forgiveness. Surely these words of John are meant for those out shopping this morning; those we point our finger at through the church window.’
No, these words of John spoken in the waters of the Jordan, are calling us back to the waters of our baptism; to remind us of our exodus when God rescued us from the slavery of sin, death and the power of the devil. (Go and stand by the baptismal font) Let his words ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’, be God’s word to us; not those out there.
As Lutheran’s we often only understand repentance as confession of sins. But it is more than this, it is also a call to conversion, or to recommit our ways, our faith, our core values back to the God of mercy; back to the kingdom of heaven. Back to our God of love, who did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all. Advent, and John’s preaching is about the grace of God and his call to repentance is a reminder that commercialism has no place in the kingdom of God, consumerism and materialism and any other kingdom of this world we care to think of, has no place before God, but seek first the kingdom of God, and all these will be added to you.
And even more so for us now, than those John spoke to, for the kingdom of heaven is not just near us, it is among us. Yes, the good news for us today is that the kingdom of heaven dwells among us in the person Jesus Christ. The kingdom of heaven, being Jesus himself; his grace, his mercy and his forgiveness, won for us on the cross, is present among us. Hidden yes, but with us. Hidden in the waters of baptism, hidden in, with and under the bread and wine, and hidden in his powerful word, Jesus is present bringing with him the kingdom of heaven; Hope peace and joy as St Paul explains it in Romans.
Yes, the kingdom of heaven makes a difference in this life. It brings hope, peace, and joy.
This is what we as Christians celebrate this Advent and what we see as giving our urgent attention. Not running to the shops in time before they close, but running to the waters of our baptism, to remember the day the kingdom of heaven came to us and brought us out of slavery to sin. The day Jesus saved you. This is the good news.
Since then, we have the kingdom of heaven, here with us in Jesus, and since we already have everything the kingdom of heaven offers because of Jesus, shouldn’t we treat our commitment to him, and our commitment to mission as being something urgent also? Perhaps we could reflect on our core values and ask the hard questions, what message are we as Christians, passing on to our children this Christmas? What are we as a church passing on?
Yes, what a great timely reminder John’s words are. To remind us that we have a wonderful God who loves us dearly and that this Advent we are reminded of John 3:16 (say together).