Imagine how you would feel if, the next time you were scrambling through the mall doing your Christmas shopping, right next to that store where you used to see a plump, bearded Santa ringing the bells for your donation for the needy, there was instead a gruff, unshaven, wiry man with a gleam of fire in his eyes.
He’s wearing some kind of animal skin. I don’t mean a buffed, coiffed, sleek, softened leather or fur, but a brittle, tattered, smelly, blood-stained animal skin. His hair is matted with stale honey. His teeth are twisted and stained. And on the floor is a pot of bugs from which, every once in a while, he takes a break from his ranting, reaches down and pops a few into his mouth for a snack. As you walk by en route to Holt Renfrew he points his long, gnarly index finger at you and says, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees! Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand!”
Now, the whole point of today’s text is this. If you were to bump into this scruffy character in one of our upscale temples dedicated to materialism, he would be a much more appropriate pointer to the meaning of Christmas than that phony Santa. It’s just that we’re not used to thinking accurately about the coming of Jesus, so we don’t become unsettled by the present disconnect between the shopping, the lights, Santa, and the real meaning of Christmas.
So many, many people will miss Jesus this Christmas. They’ll miss what Christmas is all about. And, if we look carefully in our text, John will tell us why.