Most people hold a skewed vision of Christianity. That unfortunate vision is a chief feature of the contemporary face of Christianity. When I listen to people who reject the Christian Message, generally what they reject is this skewed vision. What they describe is far removed from the message of the Gospel and the core teaching of Jesus.
What they describe the triumph of John the Baptist over the message of Jesus. John the Baptist stood in the last line of the great prophetic tradition of ancient Israel. His was a message of the necessity of repentance and the wrath of God, poured out upon all mankind—a wrath richly deserved.
Most people have this idea that good or moral behavior is something that we must engage as though the wrath of God were the adult version of a small child’s take on how to prepare for Christmas. You know: “You’d better not shout, you’d better not pout, you’d better not cry/ I’m telling you why.” Somebody’s coming to town, and chances are that person is not going to be very pleased.
So you had better be on your best behavior. Maybe you can appease that person. Maybe you can fool that person into thinking that you are somehow better than you know you truly are.
Essentially that’s John the Baptist’s religion, it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But that is what is popular today. Most folk settle for that. And, by extension the whole understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus is understood only on the level of Jesus getting the punishment that we deserved—which by the way—paints God the Father in a rather unfavorable light.
I keep persisting with the hope that eventually the message of Jesus will catch on—but it hasn’t in the last twenty centuries, so why would I think that it might happen now? Even I notice that we all do so much better with Lent than with the promise of New Life in Easter. People come to the Church for Lent. They all disappear after Easter. It is as if we say, “just reassure me that I’m forgiven, don’t waste my time with all this talk about new and abundant life.”
In the collect for the Second Sunday of Christmastide, we celebrate this: God wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored human nature. Well, John the Baptist did not believe it. And neither, sadly do most of those who profess to be followers of Jesus.