The Ballad of John and ... John

Every year when December hits, we hear a lot about John. That's John, as in the strange and hairy man screaming as loud as he can that we've really messed up the world, and we had all better get our act straight before it's too late.

I was 12 years old when John was killed. I can still remember hearing it on the news, that Dec. 8 day in 1980. My favorite radio station, WRNO-FM, played nothing but John Lennon or the Beatles for what seemed like an entire day or more. Every year since then, early in December, John's life, death and message get told again and again.

The same is true of another John. Another strange and hairy John screaming as loud as he can that we've really messed up the world, and we all better get our act straight before it's too late.

Early in the Christmas season, as the Church observes Advent, this other John's life and message (but not so much his death) get told again and again. Pay attention in your Advent worship services, and you may hear a lot about this other John.

This latter John we call "the Baptizer"; the former one we call "the Beatle." In addition to their name, appearance, and message, they share other characteristics, too. Like the prophets Elijah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel before them, both Johns stand out from the crowd with their personal grooming habits. They both are also fond of using bizarre, dramatic public behavior to draw attention to their message.

John the Baptizer is jailed for speaking out on the immoral personal behavior of the powerful and corrupt ruler, Herod Antipas. Herod, out of fear of the people, resists his urge to kill the Baptizer, until a young woman dances the hoochie-coo so well that a drunken Herod surrenders to his wife's wishes and has the troublemaker's head cut off.

John the Beatle is spied upon by the FBI for speaking out on the immoral and corrupt behavior of the powerful United States government. President Nixon fights fiercely to have the Beatle deported, but loses the battle. In the end, it is not the government but a deranged fan who eventually kills this troublemaker.

There are also some important differences. The Baptizer lives and dies during Jesus' earthly life; the Beatle, almost two millennia after Jesus' earthly life.

The Baptizer, after being thrown in jail and not seeing any signs of a Messiah-led power-play, dares to question Jesus' identity as the Christ. The Beatle, after being mocked, ridiculed and targeted by Christians and the U.S. government, dares to call upon Jesus' identity as the Christ.

Remember the Beatles' 1969 hit, "The Ballad of John and Yoko"? Each verse tells of the rejection and mocking John the Beatle faces for his beliefs and strange actions, and in the chorus John cries out,

Christ, you know it ain't easy, you know how hard it can be,
the way things are going, they're gonna crucify me.

One John dares to question Jesus' identity, yet we praise him as a prophet and a saint. The other John identifies with Jesus' suffering and hardships, yet we demonize him as sinner and a heretic.

Perhaps the Beatle is intentionally taunting Christians; perhaps he sincerely feels persecuted by "God's people" in much the same way Jesus is persecuted by "God's people." Or, perhaps ... both.

But when compared to our powerful, selfish and self-preserving "Christian" lifestyles, the Beatle seems to have a far greater understanding of and appreciation for Jesus' life, death, and teachings than those of us boasting about our Christianity. Take for example Jesus' words about suffering, persecution and taking up one's cross.

Yes, we hear a lot about two Johns every time December rolls around. One tells us (as reported by Eugene Peterson), "What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it's deadwood, it goes on the fire."

The other is telling us (as reported by John and Yoko), "Give peace a chance," and "War is over (if you want it)."

I think God may be using both Johns to try to tell us something. Maybe, just maybe, we all need to do some repenting -- and imagining.

Amen, and goo goo ga joob.

Author's note: This is an excerpt from 'Elvis, Willie, Jesus & Me: The Musings and Mutterings of a Church Misfit' (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2008).

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