A few weeks ago, I was at a conference in Amsterdam,
where a Baptist theologian named Curtis Freeman
offered some lectures titled ‘Undomesticated Dissent’
which were reflections on what it means for a people whose
story is Baptist, who were birthed in dissent from the status quo,
who refused to conform to the imposition of religion from the state.
Freeman said that Baptists understood dissent to mean
- a deep suspicion of the powers
- a fierce conviction of the lordship of Christ
- a hopeful imagination of God’s coming kingdom
I share this because perhaps John the Baptist was the first Baptist.
He was certainly one, like Elijah before him,
who dissented from the accepted order of the world.
When Luke introduces us to the adult John,
he lists the powers of the day –
Casaer, the governor of Judaea Pontius Pilate, the local kings Herod and Philip,
the high priests Annas and Caiaphas
and then he names John son of Zechariah, who was living in the desert (Luke 3.1-2)
Luke’s point is to identify John as God’s alternative ‘power’ in the world,
John is the one to whom the word of God comes.
John is one who expresses deep suspicion of the powers
to the Pharisees and Sadducees he warns them
‘the axe is already at the root of the tree’
and that claiming Abraham as their father will not be enough to save
them, unless they repent (Matt 3.9-10)
John is one who expresses a fierce conviction in the kingdom of God
and in the coming one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
John is one who recognizes the Lordship of Jesus –
‘after me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose
sandals I am not fir to carry’ (Matt 3.11)
John is one who expresses a hopeful imagination in the kingdom of God.
His message is get ready for the kingdom of God is coming:
a kingdom that will turn the world upside down,
a kingdom that will reverse the current course of the world
a kingdom with good fruit as its sign.
This Advent as we live with John,
allowing him into homes,
as he intrudes into our daily life,
hear his voice of hope, of demand, and of summons,
allow him to make you suspicious of the powers ,
whether they be the multiple sentimental Christmas adverts,
whether they be a politics that wants to lay blame and spread fear;
follow him in sharing and living with the conviction –
the certainty and passion – in the power of the coming Christ;
and imagine with hope the coming kingdom
pray for it, long for it, see it, live for it, and even, perhaps like John, be
ready to die for it.