Every year when December hits, we hear a lot about John. That’s John, as in the strange and hairy man screaming as loud as he can that we’ve really messed up the world, and we all better get our act straight before it’s too late.
I was 12 years old when John was killed. I can still remember hearing it on the news, Dec. 8, 1980. My favorite radio station played nothing but John Lennon or the Beatles for what seemed like an entire day or more.
And every year since then, early in December, John’s life, death and message get told again and again.
The same is true of another John, also strange and hairy and screaming as loud as he can that the we’ve really messed up the world, and we all better get our act straight before it’s too late.
Early in the Christmas season, as the church observes Advent, this John’s life and message (not so much his death) get told again and again.
We call the latter John “the Baptizer. The former we call “the Beatle.” In addition to their name, appearance and message, they share other characteristics, too.
Like the prophets Elijah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel before them, both Johns stand out from the crowd. Both use bizarre, dramatic public behavior to draw attention to their message.
John the Baptizer is jailed for speaking out on the immoral personal behavior of the powerful and corrupt ruler, Herod Antipas. Out of fear of the people, Herod resists his urge to kill the Baptizer, until a young woman dances the hoochie-coo so well that a drunken Herod surrenders to his wife’s wishes and has the troublemaker’s head cut off.
John the Beatle is spied upon by the FBI for speaking out on the immoral and corrupt behavior of the powerful United States government. President Nixon fights fiercely to have the Beatle deported, but loses the battle. In the end, it is not the government but a deranged fan who kills this troublemaker.
There are some important differences. The Baptizer lives and dies during Jesus’ earthly life, the Beatle nearly two millennia later.
Thrown in jail and not seeing any signs of a Messiah-led power-play, the Baptizer dares to question Jesus’ identity as the Christ. Mocked, ridiculed and targeted by Christians and the U.S. government, the Beatle dares to call upon Jesus’ identity as the Christ.
Remember the Beatles’ 1969 hit, “The Ballad of John and Yoko?” Each verse tells of the rejection and mocking John the Beatle faces for his beliefs and strange actions. In the chorus John cries out: “Christ, you know it ain’t easy, you know how hard it can be. The way things are going, they’re gonna crucify me.”
One John questions Jesus’ identity, and we praise him as a prophet and a saint. The other John identifies with Jesus’ suffering and hardships, and we demonize him as sinner and a heretic.
Does the Beatle intentionally taunt Christians? Or does he sincerely feel persecuted by “God’s people” in much the same way Jesus is also persecuted by “God’s people?” Perhaps it is both.
Compared to our own powerful, selfish and self-preserving “Christian” lifestyles, the Beatle seems to get it right. Take for example Jesus’ words about suffering, persecution and taking up one’s cross.
We hear a lot about two Johns every year when December rolls around.
One tells us (as reported by Eugene Peterson): “What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”
The other is telling us (as reported by John and Yoko), “Give peace a chance” and “War is over (if you want it).”
I think God may be using both Johns to try to tell us something. Maybe there is some repenting we need to do, and some imagining as well.
Amen. And goo goo ga joob.
Bert Montgomery is pastor at Campbellsburg Baptist Church in Campbellsburg, Ky.
Pastor of University Baptist Church in Starkville, Mississippi, and the author of five books, including “A Rabbi & a Preacher Go to a Pride Parade,” Montgomery also teaches religion and sociology courses at Mississippi State University.