It’s the season of Advent, a time when Christians prepare for the coming of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. I thought about inviting John the Baptist to preach at my church during Advent.
Several of my pastor friends have had him in their pulpits, but his preaching was met with mixed reviews. Some of the older people didn’t like the way he was dressed. They said he looked like a hippie dressed in camel hair and a leather belt.
The younger crowd thought what he wore was really cool. Many of them decided that if the preacher could wear camel hair to church they should be allowed to wear their jeans, even the ones with holes in them.
Apparently, John offended some of the ladies of these churches who worked hard to prepare him something to eat after he preached. He refused to eat what others set before him. He said he was on a strict diet of honey-covered locusts. He said they are low in carbs.
One other thing: John the Baptist prefers to preach outdoors, preferably down by the river. The first question he asks when he’s invited to preach is whether there’s a river nearby for baptizing.
Not many Baptists get excited any more about meeting down by the riverside. We’ll sing about the river, but don’t ask us to give up the comforts of soft pews and warm water in our baptistries.
But here’s the biggest reason I decided not to invite John the Baptist to preach: his message is offensive to some people.
John doesn’t care whom he offends. Remember the time he spoke out against King Herod after the king married his brother’s wife? John the Baptist told the king what he was doing was unlawful.
A man with the courage to stand up to a king isn’t going to worry whether his message to the church is offensive. John the Baptist doesn’t say things just to be offensive. John has a distinct purpose in his message: to prepare the way for Jesus–and if it offends, so be it.
John’s messages have no middle ground. His preaching leads down a path that forks. He forces you to choose which fork you will take in every message.
When John preaches, he says that you are either for Jesus or against Jesus. To make it even more plain, John says you are either producing fruit for Jesus or you are getting ready to be kindling for a fire. With John it’s either fruit or fire.
I like messages that give people a little more wiggle room. For John it’s fruit or fire.
John is afraid that too many people get religion without getting Jesus. That happens during this time of year. People make a token visit to church and they put out a Nativity scene and they have a little religion with their Christmas. It’s not much more thoughtful than adding a little butter to their bread or a little cream to their coffee.
John says that to prepare for Jesus, there has to be more to it than that. Before Christmas can really come, we must understand why Jesus came.
It’s as simple and as complex as this: Jesus came to save us from sin. Too many people are unwilling to admit sin, make a step toward Jesus and admit that they are sinners. The first step in giving our lives to Jesus is repentance. It always has been. It always will be.
From John the Baptist’s view, either we are headed toward Jesus or we are headed away from Jesus. Our lives are lived with an ongoing desire to turn from every act of evil and evil influence, or they are lived with a desire to do what we want to do without any interference from the Lord.
John believes that the proof of allegiance to Jesus is in the fruit, a metaphor for using the gifts God has given us for the sake of the kingdom.
Every time we hoard our gifts we have not produced fruit in keeping with repentance.
Every time we use our gifts as a stick to bend the will of others rather than a shepherd’s crook to lead by example, we have not produced fruit in keeping with repentance.
Every time we use our gifts to promote our agenda instead of allowing God to use us to produce His agenda, we have not produced fruit in keeping with repentance.
If John the Baptist had come to preach to our church, he would have been blunt. He would have told us that people whose lives are not being lived in keeping with repentance are headed for the fire. He told some leaders a while back that “the ax is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
John said that the Lord’s “winnowing fork in is his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning the chaff, with unquenchable fire.”
That’s not a very joyous verse to think about during Advent but then again, John’s style of preaching isn’t for entertainment; it is for repentance.
Maybe I should go ahead and invite the Baptizer to come preach during Advent. I’m sure he’ll offend some but perhaps he will convince someone to meet him down by the riverside, repent of their sins and be baptized. There’s no better way to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. His column appears in The Moultrie Observer.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.