A Whimsical Encounter — This can serve as the message/sermon.
This drama involves two people. One person starts out as if doing the regular reading of the passage. This might be the worship leader or the Minister, the person designated to “preach.” The second person arrives as John the Baptiser and basically interrupts the proceedings.
There are references to lighting the Advent Candle of Peace. These may be adapted to match the theme of the day.
ONE (Leader, Minister, worship leader) reading Luke 3:1-4a:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness…
JtB: ‘Prepare the way, make the path straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. And the crooked shall be made straight. And the rough ways made smooth. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’
ONE: Hey! I am supposed to read that! (shake your sheaf of papers and say:) I have it right here. Those are my words!
JtB: What? Those are my words. I say that!
ONE: Who are you?
JtB: My name is John. (Looks around at the sanctuary and the congregation and says:) Where am I?
ONE: John? As in John the Baptist? I always pictured you as much taller. You’re kind of short.
JtB: Good things come in small packages. But let’s get something straight. “John the baptiser” is what they call me. Where do you get this “John the Baptist” stuff from?
ONE: Well, that is how you are remembered today.
JtB: “Remembered?!” What is with the “remembered” bit? Why are you talking about me in the past tense? AND, you have not answered my question: Where am I? And when am I?
ONE: Well, John the Baptiser, this is [name of the town/city]. And the year is 2018, about 2000 years after you lived.
JtB: “After?!” Do you mean I am dead? How did I die?
[JtB interrupts saying…]
JtB: Herod, that viper!
ONE: Yes, Herod, that viper, had you arrested and then…
[JtB interrupts, again,saying…]
JtB: Okay! Okay, don’t tell me, I was just having a senior moment. After 2000 years I am entitled to one. I do remember. Aghhh. [Slice neck with a finger and grimace.] So… this is [name of town or city where you are located]. What is going on?
One: John the Baptiser, this is church and we are worshipping God.
JtB: Worship. Candles, an altar, bread, wine.
[“One” interrupts and says)
ONE: Grape juice, actually…
JtB: Grape juice? Can’t handle your wine? And why all the little lights and the greens?
ONE: This is the Advent Season.
JtB: Advent? Hmmm… What, or whom, are you expecting?
[JtB interrupts, saying incredulously…]
JtB: Emmanuel?! God with you? God with us?!
ONE: YES! Emmanuel, God with us, revealed in Mary and Joseph’s child, Jesus.
JtB: (Mulling over the names): Mary, Joseph, Jesus… I had a cousin, Jesus.
ONE: HE IS THE ONE!
JtB: What?! My construction working cousin, Jesus, is the one? From Nazareth? Nothing-and-no one good comes from Nazareth.
ONE: We have heard that, too. Be that as it may, Jesus, your cousin, is THE one. He shows us the Way.
JtB: I cannot believe that!
Musician plays a succession of piano chords sounding harp-like…
ONE: (Looking up and around asks): What was that?
JtB: Oh, it was meant to sound like divine intervention, but it was just your piano player. Still, her/his music has restored my memory.
ONE: (sounding doubtful, says): Right. So now we can ask you some questions?
JtB: Sure, shoot.
ONE: What, exactly, were you doing in the wilderness, down by the Jordan River?
JtB: Well, water is a multi-valent symbol…
ONE: A multi-valent symbol?
JtB: Hey, my high school chemistry had to be good for something.
The symbol of water: multi-valent. That means it has a multitude of meanings. You surely are familiar with some of these. For example, stormy waters represent chaos. And when we talk about someone stilling a storm or walking on water we mean they have power over chaos.
Then there is the use of water as a symbol of life. In my desert land, a stream or water running through the wilderness means life for everything — plants, animals, people.
And of course water washes things clean. We wash food in preparation for the table. We wash our hands and feet when we enter homes before a meal.
ONE: What about your baptising business? That is quite an impressive use of that multi-valent symbol, water.
JtB: That is simple. Land animals sinking under water for an extended period of time do what?
One: They die.
JtB: Right. Their spirits starve for air. But if they surface soon enough, they…
One: Start breathing again.
JtB: Right. They return to life. My baptising represents a dying to an old way of life where you are sinking, and being born into a new way of life.
ONE: In our scripture reading this morning, which you so rudely interrupted, we hear the word… [Look at the Bible passage, as if searching for a word.] … repentance. What does that mean?
JtB: Ah, repentance. In the Greek it means “to turn around.” Repentance is about making an about-face in your life. Whatever way you were going, perhaps following the crowd…we are all so good at that… repentance means you turn around and follow God’s way.
ONE: That is what your cousin Jesus is on about. As I said, Jesus shows us and teaches us God’s way.
JtB: (Shaking his head in a bit of disbelief) I still cannot believe you are talking about my low-life cousin.
ONE: John the Baptiser, we follow your lead, too, to this day.
JtB: What do you mean?
ONE: (Pointing to the baptismal font) We baptise people, either as infants or adults, as a sign of our commitment to Jesus’ Way.
JtB: In that funny little thing that looks like the Space Needle? [This comment is site-specific; the drama was first presented in a suburb of Seattle where the baptismal font took its shape from the Space Needle. Could say something like, ‘ In that little bowl?’]
ONE: (Sounding a little touchy and defensive) YES. It is symbolic. [Even though we do not have many baptisms here at name of church], We keep the baptismal font in the sanctuary to remind us of our baptisms, our dying to an old way of life and our commitment to a new way. Some churches have their baptismal font right at the door of the sanctuary, symbolic that we enter the faith through baptism, committed to a new Way.
JtB: [looking around the sanctuary, John asks] You mentioned this is the Advent season. Where does today fit into the season?
ONE: Today is the second Sunday of Advent. [Turn to the congregation as you say…] Today we lit the candle of… PEACE.
JtB: Peace, you are still working on PEACE? In my time, the issue of peace looms large. We witness…notice I say “witness” because I do not believe that fighting brings peace. We witness against the power and greed of the ruling elite. They wage wars to protect their interests, to increase their power. Of course, the ruling elite does not actually do the fighting. Oh no. They send the youth from working families off to fight. These poor young people are sent to distant lands where they were wounded. Many are killed. All the soldiers return wounded in some way. Even when they come home with sound bodies, they have wounded hearts, minds and spirits. An unnecessary tragedy that makes me so angry!
ONE: John, you cannot believe how familiar what you say of your time sounds like our time. Two thousand years later, what are we to do?
JtB: If you want peace, work for justice, I always say.
If you want peace, feed the hungry.
If you want peace, clothe the naked.
If you want peace, bring recovery of sight to the blind– I think you call that health care.
If you want peace, proclaim the Good News of God’s peace to all.
ONE: You will not believe it, John the Baptiser, but that is exactly what your cousin preaches, teaches and witnesses, even to death (look at the cross)… on a cross.
JtB: My cuz, a prince of peace.
ONE: That is one of the ways he is remembered, as the Prince of Peace. [pause] John the Baptiser. thank you for dropping in and visiting with us.
JtB: Only a pleasure. Now I’m off. [Start out center aisle.] Prepare the way, make the path straight! [Exit.]
ONE: Pray with me. God, thank you for people along our path who show us the way, the way of peace and justice. Spur us on to actively work to fulfil your plan for peace on earth, goodwill to all. Amen.