Homily for Nativity of John Baptist
In the “proper” Church Kalendar (BCP), there are only three births celebrated: Jesus, Mary and John Baptist. John is important. You can tell this because his mother was well past childbearing age.
It’s a well-known literary device in myths that heroes are born to such women or to virgins. Think Greek myths. In Scripture, when the Lord had a special task for someone, there was something unusual about the birth. There’s Sarah, there’s Samuel’s mother, there’s Samson’s mother. In the New Testament we have, today, Elizabeth, and of course Mary. The device is still alive and well: read North Korean propaganda about Kim Jong-Il’s birth.
John Baptist is the bridge from Old to New. He’s the last of the straight talkin’, John Wayne, shootin’ from the hip Old Testament Prophets, and the first of the New. And his straight talkin’, shootin’ from the hip message is REPENT—that is, reassess your priorities.
Repent—not to please God the finger-wagging headmaster so that you can get more celestial Nectar points for a club class seat in the afterlife. No!
Repent—to free yourself from lumber that weighs down the ship of life, and prevents you from living. Lumber like pride, prejudice, expectations, envy.
Repent—to be free from self, free from me, me, me, free from the lust for power, from the certainty that you are right and everyone else is wrong, and to tell them so, constantly. Free from self-righteousness.
Repent—so that you can live abundantly, not constrained by ego, but flying free. Hot air balloons ascending, to use an analogy that I like.
We see the need for this every day of our lives—and don’t imagine that I’m any better at this than you are. We see self-righteousness. We see commitment to control. We see commitment to cause hurt and division. Division arises when people who want to retain power exclude others by gossip, or anonymous messages, or Facebook, or whatever. This kind of division has been part of human experience since time immemorial: the hissing serpent of the Garden of Eden with its forked, divided tongue.
These are some of the things that John Baptist calls us to repent of—to acknowledge that we have strayed and that we can revise our course by working for togetherness, community and cooperation.
When we divide person from person, or exclude others, we become the devil. Consider the word diabolic: anabolic means building up, catabolic means breaking down, and diabolic means dividing, splintering. The Kingdom of God is about anabolism. It’s as far removed from diabolical gossip as it is possible to get. It’s about being undivided, integrated, It’s about being anabolic agents without the side effects.
What do we really need? We need food sufficient for the day, we need shelter, somewhere to sleep, and some form of activity that gives a sense of accomplishment. And since it is not good for us to be alone, companionship. That’s all. But we are brainwashed by capitalism and the diabolical advertising industry to let ourselves be trapped by payments, mortgages, fashion, preposterous gadgetry, and storing money in the bank. This is idiocy. As the years pass, our hopes and dreams are corroded by caution and fear. And then we die, having never truly lived.
What do we need to do to prepare the way? Do we give in to diabolic division, or do we work for anabolic integration? Here are some suggestions
- accept yourself in your glorious humanity: go easy on yourself.
- accept others in their glorious humanity; go easy on others.
- forgive yourself; don’t harbour resentments.
- forgive others; you’ll eat yourself up if you don’t.
- welcome each other; don’t exclude.
- care for each other; don’t gossip.
- bless each other, especially those you find difficult, and those that find you utterly impossible.
In my homily two weeks ago I asked: “Who am I? Who are you? Is there anything underneath all the onion skins, or the layers of the Matryushka doll? Are you, as I so often feel, like a Polo mint with nothing in the middle?”
Today’s Gospel asks a different question: ‘What, then, will this child become?’
What will you become?
The ship in which we sail the voyage of life, like any ship, doesn’t do well overloaded with lumber. It sinks. It does best when carrying only the essentials. If you set out on a venture, first of all preparing something to fall back on in case you fail, you can be sure that you’ll fail. If you risk all and have nothing to fall back on, you’ve no choice but to KBO.
To be truly challenging, the voyage of life must rest on a firm foundation of risk.
There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune, said Shakespeare. The Vicar, stealing from Mrs Emmeline Lucas, says, There comes a tide in the affairs of men, which, if you don’t nip it in the bud, leads on to boredom. The purpose of life is not to be bored, boring and cautious. Sin is life unlived. The purpose of life is to lie on your deathbed and say, ‘Ye Gods, that was some ride’.
That’s life abundant. That’s eternal life.