Every year I look forward to watching all of the Christmas specials on television, especially the old classics. There is one that stands above the rest in my mind: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This was always my dad’s favorite and over the years it became mine almost by default. We can quote it word for word.
The story, as you know, is one of a small reindeer whose nose lights up. His nose has a red glow to it and the other reindeer he grew up with didn’t want to have anything to do with him and even wouldn’t let him play in any of their games.
In the stop motion film version they add some elements to the story about Hermie, an elf that doesn’t want to make toys and, in fact, wants to be a dentist. Rudolph and Hermie run away together and are beset by a myriad of calamities and meet many interesting characters.
Toward the end of the story Rudolph and his friends are saved, it’s Christmas Eve and there is a bad thunderstorm. Santa gathers everyone around the shop to break the news that he is going to have to cancel Christmas because he won’t be able to see to fly the sleigh.
Santa: “Everything’s grounded! Oh, the poor kids. They’ve been so good this year, too. But I couldn’t chance it. I’ll have to tell everybody that it’s all off this year. (He goes to the big Hall, where everybody is busily working) “Quiet! Quiet! Please, everybody quiet! Quiet! I’ve got some bad news, folks. Christmas is going to be canceled. (everybody gasps) There’s nothing I can do. This weather– (just then, Rudolph’s nose glows near Santa’s face) Rudolph, Rudolph, please! Could you tone it down a bit? I mean, that nose of yours. I– (he gazes in amazed realization at Rudolph’s nose) That nose! That beautiful, wonderful nose!”
Santa: (joyfully) “Rudolph, Christmas is not off, and you’re going to lead my team!”
Rudolph: “I am?”
Santa: “Yes, sir. (Rudolph’s nose glows brighter) You and that wonderful nose of yours.”
Rudolph: “My nose, sir?”
Santa: “Ho, ho, ho! From what I see now, that’ll cut through the murkiest storm they can dish up. What I’m trying to say is… Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
Rudolph: “It will be an honor, sir.”
Read – Matthew 3:1-17
I imagine that John the Baptist was a lot like Rudolph. Based on the description in these verses he looked wild, at crazy things, and to the Jewish population of the time spoke crazy things about a man named Jesus who he claimed to be the son of God.
I’m sure people went to see for themselves this crazy man preaching out by the river. He was likely mocked and never more so than when the religious leaders would come to the river together to see what he was doing. He was baptizing. people in the river as some sort of ritual cleansing.
Ritual bathing was not new to the Jewish people, but doing so in the river where people washed, that was new. They and the other skeptics watched as person after person sought absolution from God, not in the temple, but in the river and through their own personal confession.
John was certainly ostracized for his behavior, the clothes he wore, and the food he ate. John had a Rudolph problem. No matter what he did, he just couldn’t contain the hope that Jesus brought to the world. It poured out of him as he preached. He was an outcast because of it.
It must have been something the day that his cousin Jesus showed up at the river. John standing in the river as Jesus makes his way into the water. As Jesus reaches John he asks to be baptized. John pauses, “I should be baptized by you, not the other way around.” Jesus responds to John by telling him this is the way it must be done.
John stands in the river, his camel hair clothes dripping wet, long hair blowing in the breeze, he grasps Jesus and baptizes him. the Bible says, “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God…And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
It was the very thing that kept John separated from his peers that ended up ushering in the beginning of a ministry that would change the world forever.
That hope! That beautiful, wonderful hope.
Sing – O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Almighty God, grant us in equal measure; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope in a Savior, Peace in our world, Joy in our hearts, and Love for our fellow man. In the name of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Advent season, Amen.