Emory Gillespie is pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
John the Baptist is an acquired taste, like roquefort. He’s complex. He is an amalgamation of unanswered questions: Is he a zealot acting out the Exodus as a kind of political comedy sketch? Is he the leader of a rival faith community, a serious threat to the fledgeling Jesus movement? Is he a kind of Enkidu figure—a fugitive of our collective consciousness from the epic Gilgamesh—who crawls out of the wilderness, learns our ways well enough and then attempts to wrestle and pin our society to the ground, only to be admired briefly and then destroyed? Whatever John is, he’s not easy to put on a cracker.
My grandfather was at his 60th class reunion. During a round of golf with three classmates, one of his friends teed off. After hitting the ball, with his club still in the air, the man said, “Gentlemen, you’ll have to excuse me.” Then he fell to the ground, dead. My grandfather recounted this, adding, “And it was a nice shot.” Advent’s scripture passages are about genuine rescue. But I wonder whether we’re sometimes embarrassed to preach about genuine rescue because we are embarrassed to admit we’re having a genuine emergency.