This time of year in the USA a religion more dominant than Christianity is preaching another message. This is from the book of Claus 1: 1-5: You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town. He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town. He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so for goodness sake be good.
Summary of John the Baptist’s vision of the coming kingdom: Either you repent or you will be punished. Retributive Justice.
This is the gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday of advent:
Matt 11: 2-11 Now John had heard in prison what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect someone else?’ Jesus answered, ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the good news is proclaimed to the poor; As the men were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the people about John, ‘What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swaying in the breeze? No? Then what did you go out to see? A man wearing fine clothes? Look, those who wear fine clothes are to be found in palaces. Then what did you go out for? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: he is the one of whom scripture says: Look, I am going to send my messenger in front of you to prepare your way before you. ‘In truth I tell you, of all the children born to women, there has never been anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.
What?? When John’s disciple asked Jesus if he is the Messiah, Jesus does not say, “Tell John I was born of a virgin, of the line of David. Tell John that you see me punishing the wicked, brandishing the sword of righteous vengeance, slaying evil doers. The scribes and pharisees that have not repented of their wrong flee before me in terror.”
Jesus simply says to tell John what they see and hear: “the blind see again, and the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Jesus’ justice is not retributive. It is restorative, making the wounded whole again. The kingdom of Jesus is not the kingdom John envisioned.
The kingdom of God/Heaven preached by Jesus is the fulfillment of what was foretold by Isaiah in chapter 35: “Here is your God, coming with vengeance is coming, he is coming to save you. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame will leap like a deer and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.”
John is a gifted preacher, the greatest. People are flocking to him to be baptized and cleansed of their sin because they fear punishment. Retribution restrains people but does not fundamentally change them. Sometimes that is where you have to start, but John is stuck there.
Jesus is all about restorative justice. Those who long to bring healing, restoration and wholeness, those who desire to help people change and be transformed, those who see the light in all their brothers and sisters, those living Christ’s vision of heaven right here, right now, are greater than John the Baptist. Insignificant you and I gathered here in the meeting house, greater than John the Baptist! What more could we want for Christmas than to be those kind of people? Thank you. Merry Christmas.
This message was given to Spokane Friends during Sunday worship service by John Kinney on December 11, 2022.