Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent 6, Year B, 11 December 2011,

Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-,19-28
Preached by Rev. Lou Scales

When Linda and I first came to the Augusta area about 11 ½ years ago, we had the delightful experience of meeting new people, learning new places and settling in to the community. It was, and, to this day, continues to be, fun. One of the things that has been the most fun is seeing how people who have lived in one location for some time greet those who are new, to the community and to the area. After experiencing this phenomenon first hand for several weeks, we learned to our delight, that there was even a formula for determining some things about the people who greet you and try to make you feel at home. As you know, according to the telling, and, quite honestly, according to our experience, the formula, first annunciated by Chablis in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, goes something like this:

If they ask you what your profession is, they’re from Atlanta.
If they ask you where you go to church, they’re from Macon.
If they ask you who your great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother were, they’re from Augusta.
If they ask you what you want to drink, they’re from Savannah.
When you’re new in the area, or doing something new in the area, people want to know something about you. Now, in most cases, there is any number of good-natured ways people use to get acquainted, to get to know you.
Now the contrast to this is probably best described using the lyrics of an old black gospel song from this part of the country, most often sung to the driving beat of a blues guitar:
There's a man going around taking names.
There's a man going around taking names.
He took my father's name, And he left my heart in pain.
There's a man going around taking names.
There's a man going around taking names.
He took my mother's name, And he left my heart in pain.
There's a man going around taking names.
There's a man going around taking names.
He took my sister's name, And he left my heart in pain.
There's a man going around taking names.
In the song, the "man going around taking names" is a metaphor, of course, for everything that menaces human relationships and life -- most prominently, the slave trader and, finally, death itself. It is a fascinating image for potential evil, this idea of "taking names." Even school children can identify with it. "Now, children," warns the teacher. "I'm going to the office for a few minutes, and I'm appointing Frances to be the monitor. Don't misbehave or she will write down your name, and you'll have to deal with me when I get back." ... There's somebody around here taking names.
When John the Baptist was at work in Bethany, beyond the Jordan River, a delegation of priests and Levites, religious officials of the highest order, sent by their ecclesiastical superiors, showed up from Jerusalem. They were not there on a package tour of the Holy Land, and this was anything but a pastoral visit; they were there taking names. You could tell that from the very first words to come from their mouths. "Who are you?" they said. No small talk. No exchange of quaint pleasantries. No pictures of the grandchildren passed around. Just, "Who are you?" ... There are some people going around taking names.
John’s answers obviously did not please them, primarily because John told the priests and Levites who he wasn’t. He wasn’t the Messiah, he wasn’t Elijah, and he wasn’t the prophet. And his only job was to point to the one who would come after him. John was a witness. His own description was a quote from the prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”
Has it occurred to you that John’s description of himself and his mission is a description that could well fit for you and me? Our Baptismal covenant asks if we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We are Christ’s heralds, Christ’s witnesses, by baptism, nourished in that task by the body and blood of our Lord. We are called daily to declare his coming, to declare his love and mercy extended to all. John’s mission has become our mission – to declare the coming of the Lord, to declare the love of Christ in all we do, in all we become.
Andrew Greeley tells this story:
Once upon a time there was a politician who was running in a very close election against a very clever campaigner. He had a good message and an exciting platform, but he was not well known. Thus he had to make a lot of speeches around the district, go to many meetings, attend tea parties, and receptions, and cocktail parties, and church gatherings, and touch every possible base in the district. It was still an uphill battle. A good friend of his was his advance man, the fellow who made the arrangements for all the events and speeches and logistics for the campaign. He was not a very good advance man; rather he was unreliable and pompous and, worst of all, disorganized. The other people in the campaign hated him, but the candidate stuck with his friend. As the election drew near the polls showed the candidate losing ground. The advance man knew they were going to lose, so he gave up altogether. The campaign self-destructed in the last week. Yet the candidate lost by only one half of one percent of the votes. All the media people said that if the campaign had been better organized, the voters would have got to know the candidate better and he would have won in a walk. We’re supposed to be advance persons for Jesus. Sometimes you wonder why he doesn’t fire us.
In this special season for the preparation we make to welcome our Lord, in the flesh, to dwell with us, it’s important to reflect on how it is we make our faith and our joy known about the One who comes. And when someone comes around taking names, I hope you will give your name loud and clear, telling the world, not only who you are, but WHOSE you are…

1. "There's a Man Going Around Taking Names," from Religious Music: Solo and Performance (Album number in The Library of Congress "Folk Music in America" series, 1978). Words in the public domain.

2. Andrew Greeley, Andrew Greeley.com, 1996.

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