Not a Tame God, Part One”
Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 3:1-6
December 10, 2006
Edgecumbe Presbyterian Church
St. Paul, MN
I have two cats. You'll hear about Felix next week, but this week I want to tell you about Morris. I've had Morris for about five years. He's a beautiful Russian Blue mix. If you've ever seen a Russian Blue cat, you will notice that they have this wonderful grey-blue fur that is just plush. Morris is a definitely a people-person; he loves to be loved and to give love. But, Morris has a dark side. I remember a time shortly after I brought him home from the shelter. He gets on his back, revealing his tummy. He obviously wants someone to run his stomach and he gives you that sweet, innocent look that is just so inviting. So, I started petting his stomach, when out of nowhere I see these two fangs heading towards me. Morris decided to bite me hard enough that I drew blood. I was not pleased.
Then there was the time I had a mouse in my old apartment. I had a recurring problem where the little visitors would end up in the cabinets. As I fretted about it, a friend suggested I open one of the cabinet doors and see what Morris does. So, I did just and that and the next morning, I got up and found a dead mouse; a little present for me.
Cats are cute. Because they look so cute with their fur and purrs, people tend to think these creatures are weak. In reality, the common housecat is a fierce predator not unlike their larger feline cousins. We are fooled by their appearance until they show their true nature.
In today's gospel, we are introduced to John the Baptist, or I should say the adult John the Baptist. Today's gospel doesn't say alot except that he was out proclaiming a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. And yet it does say a lot. You see, he is the guy that we would not want to invite to our holiday party because he's so uncivil. He isn't polite, he's boorish, probably not playing with a full deck and just an all around jerk. We will find out next week his message of repentance isn't that easy for people to hear.
I don't like John the Baptist and I think there are a lot of you out there that might agree. This isn't a guy who plays well with others and you'd rather just ignore him.
He reminds me of one of those traveling preachers I would hear in the center triad during my college days at Michigan State University. The man would rant and rave about sin and the devil and basically provide a good laugh for the students making their way to the next class. Maybe some saw John the Baptist that way and ignored his message.
But the thing is, you can't ignore his message; not the folks back then and certainly not now. John is preparing us for God's entry into this world and when God arrives, valleys would be filled up, mountains would be made low and people would see that salvation comes from God. John is saying that God is coming and you better be ready, because the very foundations of the earth will be shaken with God arrives.
In popular culture, when we think of Christmas, we think of Jesus being born in a stable, and about shepherds and the Three Wise Men for good measure. We've all seen or participated in those Christmas pageants where the kids dress up as Bible characters and Jesus is usually portrayed by a doll. I sometimes think we want to make Jesus a lot like that doll; sweet, quiet and definitely harmless. Of course, in reality, Jesus' story is 180 degrees different from our quiet image. A ruling king is threatened by this small baby and proceeds to kill all male newborns under two in Bethlehem to make sure no one challenges his authority. This Jesus would grow up and confound his family, saying that whoever does his Father's will is his brother and sister. This Jesus would offend the religious authorities by associating with tax collectors and other sundry folk. He would overturn the tables of the money changers in the Temple. This man would then die the death of a theif, and just when you think everything is over, he confounds death by rising from the dead.
So John knew what he was talking about when he said that people need to get ready for Christ's coming. Valleys would be filled and mountains would be made low by his presence, so we need to be prepared. God's arrival is not a pleasant occasion, but an upheaval, that will demand we get ready and get right.
Our culture likes to skip those times of reflection. Some churches ignore Lent and Holy Week going straight to Easter. Good Friday becomes just a stopover to what happens Easter morning. We do the same with Advent. Advent is time of preparation; a time to take stock and wait for God. However, we skip that and go to the little baby born in a manger. When we do that, we miss why that little baby comes to earth in first place, because their are mountains and crooked roads blocking us from being with God. The sin, the injustice found in the world keeps us from communing with God. God comes to be with us, to save us, to redeem us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Outside of the walls of this church today, there are many people dealing with mountains that seem to big to cross. Some are dealing with little resources to buy food and shelter. Some are dealing with the terrors of war. Some are being abused by someone who was supposed to take care of them. Some are dealing with those who opress them because they are different. There are mountains and valleys and crooked roads everywhere. This is what Advent reminds us. But this is also a time of hope, because we know that God is coming to bring down the mountains and make the crooked ways straight. We who follow Christ, must share that message with those who feel that all hope is gone. They must know that day of the Lord is surely coming and injustice will soon end.
So, I'm waiting until the end to tell about the meaning of my sermon title. Some of you might know where it comes from: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. When the children are first told about Aslan the Lion, they wonder if he is safe. One of their their hosts, the Mr. Beaver, responds, "Safe? Course he's not safe. He's good. But he's not a tame lion."
God is not a safe God. God comes and upsets us, disturbs us and saves us. God is good and wants to bring healing to the world. But get ready for a bumpy ride.
We are not done talking about this disturbing God. Stay tuned. Thanks be to God. Amen.