From the pulpit: Christians need Johns example

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The word of God came to John son of Zachariah in the wilderness. &8220;Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.&8221; &045; Luke 3

I did my annual Google search for John the Baptist Christmas tree ornaments again this week. No sign of one I could spot. We have a hard time making room for John in our Christmas traditions. But there is no way to read the Christmas narratives without running headlong into him.

John is in heaven, perhaps now asking God, above all, to spare him the fate of being ornamentalized. He was anything but comfortable with trappings of honor, power or wealth. He was, as Malachi prophesied, like a refiner&8217;s fire and a bar of lye soap. John never lets us forget that the salvation of the world is all about a clear- eyed realization of human sinfulness.

It seems that our Christmas tradition is aimed at creating an imaginary perfect world for an imaginary perfect day. Our Christmas scenes are always pristine with brilliant pure snow and bright, clean streets. Everyone is at his or her best, and all the problems that are so obvious and distressing to us every other day of the year magically disappear.

Which is why John the Baptist just doesn&8217;t fit. He breaks in on the scene with visions of judgment and transformations that are deeply disconcerting and radically disorienting. John believes that any salvation that dodges the reality and tragedy of sin is no salvation at all.

So, while John may seem an odd visitor at Christmas, the truth is that we desperately need him. The truth is that we do not live in a perfect world, not for a day or even a minute. The sins of the world that keep us troubled during the day, and own sins which keep us awake at night, are precisely what we needed solved, healed and forgiven. It is not sugarplums we need, but salvation. Thankfully, it is also what John says God is bringing into the world.

Robert Montgomery is the preaching minister of Cahaba Valley Church