During Advent, we need to stop looking forward to the coming of meek and mild baby Jesus but rather expect the coming of just and wild Jesus who turns over tables of injustice, is seen as a threat to Empire, and calls us to follow him.
When we read about John the Baptizer during Advent, we sometimes mistakenly see him as the wild one preparing the way for the mild one, when what I think he may actually be saying is “get ready for one who is even wilder than I am – wilder for love, wilder for justice, and wilder for living into the reality of a beloved community in our world. You think I am wild? Get ready for Jesus!”
In the Gospel of Luke, when the crowds come to John to be baptized, he didn’t tell them that everything was going to be okay with the way things were. He did not tell them to rest on their laurels or to seek security in their status. He did not give the people words of false comfort or tell them that they should go with the flow or maintain the status quo. No, John called out a warning to the people that they needed to change, that they needed to repent, that they needed to flee from the wrath to come.
When individuals in the crowd asked John specifically what they should do, John’s message was clear: share your clothing and your food with those who are in need, treat people fairly, and do not use your position of authority for selfish gain or to intimidate or threaten people. In short, do justice. John was preparing the way of justice and proclaiming the good and prophetic news that the one who was to come after John, the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, was coming to bring the way of justice for all people, indeed for all creation, and if the people wanted to be a part of that way, then they would actually have to live in that way.
Those who cling to unjust power are constantly attempting to tame Jesus rather than follow Jesus’ way of love justice in the world which is always good news for the poor and oppressed and a rebuke to the oppressor. They seek to use Jesus as an instrument of control to keep people in their places rather than recognizing Jesus as a prophet of liberation. Jesus made it clear to those holding unjust power that he would not be controlled for their purposes and that his mission was to proclaim good news for the poor and oppressed. If Christians are not proclaiming this same liberation with our words and our actions, we simply are not following Jesus but rather some corrupt copy foisted upon us by the very people and systems that Jesus rebuked and sought to transform. It is not Christian to use Jesus as a means of controlling the very people that Jesus called for us to liberate.
As we prepare for Christmas this year, we are sadly reminded that those who cling to unjust forms of power attempt to perpetuate a long and tragic tradition of seeking to co-opt the way of Jesus and force it to support the way of the powerful rather than the way of justice for the most vulnerable among us. The way of Jesus has been mistaken for the American way; including adherence to its social, political, and economic systems. Through increasingly sophisticated and ever present forms of propaganda, a form of Christianity is used to bolster loyalty to and support for the American empire. Every cry that we are a Christian nation is an echo of the imperial voice that seeks to tame Jesus and use the power of the Jesus movement to consolidate power of the empire through the alienation of the “other,” by highlighting that their way is not our way, that “they” are not us.
As we celebrate Christmas in the American Empire, it is no wonder that we tend to focus on the meek and mild American Empire-friendly baby Jesus and that we use Christmas to foster a rabid and sometimes even violent consumerism that functions to bolster an unsustainable and unjust economic system.
In the midst of a world of extreme poverty and injustice, in which persons who cry out and act out for justice are being tortured, humiliated, and executed with impunity by the equivalent of Caesars; in which refugees are often rejected and forced to fend for themselves, and in which our relentless culture of consumption is creating an unlivable climate on earth; one has to wonder what an angry, just, and wild Jesus might do today.
One thing is for sure, those holding unjust power in the American Empire are not awaiting the birth of angry and wild Jesus this Christmas, the American Empire is looking forward to the birth of tame Jesus. The angry and wild Jesus was killed nearly two thousand years ago and his movement for justice and liberation has been been co-opted and sabotaged by the forces of empire almost ever since. Angry and wild Jesus is dead along with the angry wild John the Baptizer who was preparing the way for him – at least that is what the American Empire is hoping for.
What the purveyors of American Empire do not realize is that this Jesus whom we think was utterly crushed so long ago has a way of coming back. Borrowing some words from Dylan Thomas, love and justice do not “go gentle into that good night.” They will continue to “rage against the dying of the light.” Maybe this is the Jesus we can celebrate this Christmas; maybe this is the Jesus we should be waiting for; maybe the way of love, peace, and justice can make a comeback through us. Maybe, just maybe, this Jesus isn’t really dead after all.
So during this Advent, instead of waiting for the coming of meek and mild baby Jesus, let us join John the Baptizer to call out a warning for ourselves and others to repent from the ways of injustice and follow the wild and just Jesus who calls for liberation and life for the poor and oppressed, and let us follow the way of Jesus with our very lives. There is no better way to prepare the way for Jesus than to work for justice and the liberation of the oppressed and by doing so we may very well be fleeing from the wrath to come.*
*Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, 2021