The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The interrupter

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:1-4).

In the midst of the usual Christmas preparations, John the Baptist appears out of nowhere and makes us face the broken state of humankind—our sinful state—rather than let us run unencumbered to the manger. And I do mean run! Look how we nearly skip over the season of Advent all together and move directly to Christmas — for the Christmas decorations, shop displays and sales begin months before Halloween.

But the Baptist says, “Wait ... hold on ... slow down ....” This is Advent and it’s time to put your personal house in order before you enter Bethlehem. There will be no dash to Christmas, not even if you back up all the way to Halloween and take a run at it.

Repent, John says.

Before you sing “Silent Night, Holy Night,” look at what else has come from your lips—words that have hurt, comments meant to belittle, criticism that demeans, lies that pretend to be truth.

Before you hear about the inn that has no room, notice in your life where you have made no room for those who need a place to belong.

Before you bend those knees at the manger, look at your feet. Who did you step on? Who did you step over in order to go on your merry way? And maybe, who did you kick while they were down?

Before you go to worship the newborn Prince of Peace, see where you have caused discord — pride that will not allow you to say you are sorry, refusal to forgive, neglect in dealing responsibly with anger or frustration.

Before you praise the Son of God, look at the other gods you have praised and to whom you have sold your soul — gods to whom you give more commitment and devotion to than you do to the one who was born of Mary.

Before you behold a Christmas heavenly chorus, choirs of angels, look at the demons who sing songs in your life.

Every Advent we are confronted with John the Baptist. Every year we wonder what to do with this unwelcome interrupter. What do we do with him? Well, we go out into the desert and meet him. With a heart prepared, we are embraced by “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” the one to whom John points, the one whom God sent to save us.


Ronald Marshall

Ronald Marshall

Posted at 3:11 pm (U.S. Eastern) 12/11/2012

Hats off to Bishop Pederson! I think his defense of Advent is just what's needed. His argument is part of a broader defense of H. Richard Niebuhr's great thesis of Christ against culture, which he argued for back in 1951 in his theological classic, Christ and Culture. And now the good bishop from the NW Synod of Wisconsin has taken up a version of that argument in his defense of the season of Advent. Elsewhere in the ELCA Niebuhr's thesis is set aside. One place to see this is in our new worship book (ELW). There Paul Gerhardt's great Advent hymn, "O Lord, How Shall I Meet You," has had its harrowing last verse chopped off without a word of explanation (hoping, I guess, that none of us would miss it). That verse begins: "[Christ] comes to judge the nations, A terror to his foes." Thank God for Bishop Pederson, who isn't afraid to speak out on behalf of that terror!

Print subscribers and supporting Web members may comment.

Log in or Subscribe to comment.

text size:

this page: email | print

February issue


Embracing diversity