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Sunday 10 December 2023 Advent 2

John the Baptist

Mark 1:1-8

By Laurence Twaddle

A Church of Scotland minister for over 40 years who has worked in Geneva for the last six

Context: a gathered international English-speaking fellowship, based in an historic church in Geneva, which is intelligent, thoughtful, articulate and can sniff out baloney at 50 metres

Aim: to remind us that what we do about Jesus of Nazareth is important, pivotal... crucial!

How badly wrong can one man get it?


There was so much about his presentation that was just wrong…
The girls from ‘what not to wear’ could have kept him right.
Leather belt with camel hair jacket…?
I don’t think so…
I mean, what was he thinking…?


And the new Jordan River Diet was just never going to catch on…
Locusts and wild honey?
I mean, you’re mixing your protein with your high energy sweeteners
with wild, unthinking, abandon…
It just doesn’t work.


And as for ‘location, location, location…’
Well, who does he think is going to traipse outside of the city
boundaries, and trek all the way to the wilderness
in order to hear a preacher…?


And when you listen to what he’s saying…
Well, what a turn off that’s going to be.
People don’t want to be told ‘they have a problem’.
People don’t want to be confronted with
fierce, fiery truth:
they don’t want to be forced to face up to stuff that
reveals them in a none too flattering light…


Why did he not soft soap them,
woo them,
seduce them with honeyed words…
instead of poking his unsparing halogen light into their hearts…?
His ruthlessly honest diagnosis of the human condition
left you squirming …


In truth, the whole thing was a bit too intense for most folk.
People don’t want religion that comes wrapped in
fire and passion.
Keep it cool,
Calm it down,
Don’t get so serious about it!
Remember, religion is just a wee bit of life –
What you do when you feel like it…


But this guy – he made it sound like it was
The Most Important Thing In The World!!


This wasn’t the placid gentility of The Vicar of Dibley:
harmless religion like Father Ted…
This was too ‘over the top’
‘In your face,’
‘Grab you by the… lapels,’
deadly serious


‘Presentation wise, Rob’, it was a disaster not even ‘waiting to
It was happening – right there before their eyes…
John the Baptist’s guide to
how not to win friends and influence people…


You would think!


And when you listened carefully to what he was saying…
It got worse, rather than better….


There was all kind of frightening talk
about ‘living in a time of crisis!’
when earth-shattering events were going to occur!
And how you had to ‘make sure you were prepared!’
So that when the crucial moment came,
and coming it was…
you didn’t ‘miss out on it…’


Frighten you half to death
if you were a bit susceptible…
a bit vulnerable…a bit wobbly, emotion-wise…
Are these just scare stories to make us buy into his dream?


He claimed that he was
the ‘warm up man’
and that just around the corner
Someone was coming
Who would change everything…


we can’t rush off and buy into every religious fanatic
who tries to raise the temperature,
tries to boss us into believing…


No, see, he wouldn’t just leave it at that…
Leave it – optional!
‘Think about it…when you have a minute’
‘If you can see your way clear’
‘If you’re going through a wee bit of a reflective phase…
you might give it all a bit of thought…’


No, that’s not good enough for John the Baptist!
He wants people to ‘change their lives!’
Change the direction of their lives…
turn their whole commitment and energy
towards seeking and serving the Kingdom of God
and following the Christ who comes to save the world.


And, he wants people to do it now…
So that when the Christ comes,
they will see him
will understand who he is…
and why he is here…
because they will have been looking for him…
looking eagerly for him to come across the mountains
bringing peace and salvation…


Well, John can speak his message all he likes
but who needs to listen?
Destined to be a voice crying in the wilderness,
ignored – side-lined – an embarrassment.
How wrong can one man get it?


But there were some…
And as the dust swirled and the desert wind spat grit in their eyes,
and the heat and glare of the sun bore down on them
they saw beyond the surprisingly unfashionable clothes,
and the bizarre diet
and the passionate words
to the truth John spoke
…and for them the externals ceased to matter…
where John’s mission was located –
how he spoke…
what he wore…
only the truth mattered –
the inner certainty that there was
something here too precious to let slip –
something worth changing the whole direction of your life for…
They stepped forward – hesitant, tentative…scared…


In the full glare of the public gaze
they chose not to lose the moment.

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