4 December 2011
Second Sunday of Advent
Advent 2B (RCL)
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Prof. Jim Kelhoffer has written an entire book on the diet of John the Baptist. His book covers the variations that occur in translations of the Gospels into Syriac and other ancient languages, and the interpretations early commentators give to the question of what John ate. But, simply, John ate what we would call grasshoppers and wild honey.
John, in other words, had opted out. Leviticus 11:22 allows locusts as clean food. But, we can be pretty sure that locusts were food of last resort. Locusts obviously do not fall into the category of domesticated animal, which is the only category of animal acceptable for sacrifice and therefore ceremonial meals. Wild honey, also, by definition is not domesticated. It also cannot be offered for sacrifice. John has removed himself both from the economy and the religion of his day. He has put himself on the outside so he can look in.
And then, he has removed himself to the Jordan River. By dipping people in the Jordan, he is making claims about the Jerusalem hierarchy — his followers are like the people who came in with Joshua, reclaiming the holy land from what John saw as a hopelessly compromised situation. But here’s the stunning thing: he gets people from Judea and Jerusalem to see their own complicity in the problems he has identified. He preaches a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people flock to him, confessing what is wrong.
And then, Jesus (Joshua) shows up, to be baptized by John in the Jordan. And Jesus, rather than removing himself, gets right into the middle of the compromised promises, and announces the realm of God. During Advent, the Church needs to take on both roles, John and Jesus: opting out, and opting in.
Who are the John the Baptists of our day? The Occupy movement? Loca-vores? People who drop off the grid? How might we eat grasshoppers and wild honey? I suppose we could refuse to participate in the retail craziness that is Advent in our culture. When we step back, however, we have to see our own complicity in whatever is wrong. And then, reenter the situation.
Where John opted out of the economy and the ceremonial meals which defined God’s people in his day, Jesus opted back in, and rendered to Caesar the things that were Caesars, and ate with whoever came to the table, clean or not. The Incarnation shifts our focus for where we look for God. John wanted a new regime in Jerusalem; Jesus established the realm of God wherever he was.
The passage from 2 Peter seems to suggest that early Christians were dismayed by God’s delay in resolving everything they saw wrong around them. I think we are called to see the realm of God here and now, incomplete for sure, but around us. We may need to take moments to opt out for clearer vision, but we are necessarily in the mix. We need to go now and then to the Jordan in order to see the realm of God more clearly.