There’s only one way of life …

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I can’t help it, but John the Baptist just makes me want to burst into song. And it’s all to do with my daughter. Let me explain. I’ve often thought that our elder daughter, when she was a teenager, would have got on with John the Baptist like a house on fire.

Because as an early teenager, she went through a grunge phase. Now, for those of you who have no idea what grunge is let me explain. Grunge was a combination of music and lifestyle that first became popular in the early 80s. And the first thing you noticed about teenagers who were into grunge was how they dressed. Mainly black and dark coloured clothes, often second-hand and generally tatty, to go with the deliberately unkempt appearance of those who wore them.

Along with that went the lifestyle. Those who followed grunge and took it seriously tended to opt out of a conventional lifestyle. They rejected normal social conventions, career choices, ways of living, and opted for alternative lifestyles.

At a time when wealth inequality was increasing, and the concepts of sustainability and organic agriculture were still fairly new vogue, grunge culture rejected normal everyday culture for a radical way of living. 

And then there was the music that had given rise to the whole movement. And one of the bands that rose to prominence at the time were The Levellers. Our daughter went to see them along with the Manic Street Preachers and Billy Bragg at a big open-air concert in Brockwell Park in Brixton in 1994. 

Bear with me – this is going somewhere, and we’ll link up with John the Baptist in a minute. A lot of grunge music was about dealing with social inequality, poverty and so on. As was the music of The Levellers. And The Levellers named themselves after a radical political movement that was active during the English Civil War. And the Levellers – the Civil War political movement, not the band – were on the side, not surprisingly, of Oliver Cromwell, and preached the sovereignty of the people, extending the vote, the equality of everyone before the law. Again – mainstream today, but definitely not then. Very much a group that proclaimed raising up the valleys and bring down the mountains – overturning the establishment and challenging the established way of doing things. A similar stance to the grunge movement.

John the Baptist would have fitted in with the grunge movement with no problem whatsoever – with his coat of camel’s hair, his diet of locusts and wild honey, his message that all were sinners and needed to repent, change their way of life, his challenges to those in positions of power. Grunge would have been his thing. 

But let’s go back to The Levellers – the band, not the political movement. They’re still going strong – we went to see them a few years ago, much to the bemusement of our daughter who, when she saw them all those years ago would never have dreamed that they would be up on her parents list of bands to go and see live!

And one of their best songs – it’s one of my all-time favourites and is regularly played at home (and you can see their recent recording of it here) – is about a man who wants to escape from the factories, from the chasing of wages, and find a new freedom – and it ends with him rejecting the calling of the bright lights of his home town – they don’t look so appealing to the eyes of this poor sinner. John the Baptist might well have heartily approved of that sentiment – rejecting the attractions that the world has to offer and recognising that you are a poor sinner.

And then comes the chorus:

There’s only one way of life
and that’s your own, your own, your own.
There’s only one way of life
and that’s your own.

That’s quite an attractive sentiment to people today. And that’s where John the Baptist would have parted company. Because for John there is only one way of life, but it most definitely isn’t your own. There is only one way of life, and that way is the Lord’s way. The only way of life is the way of the Lord that the prophet Isaiah proclaimed. I think he would have wanted to change the words of the chorus and sing:

There’s only one way of life
and that’s the Lord’s, the Lord’s, the Lord’s.

Prepare the way of the Lord.

Prepare the way of the Lord, he cries. Make his paths 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.’  

So here we have it. John, the original proponent of grunge, out there in the desert with his message from Isaiah of the need to prepare the way of the Lord. John, the great Leveller of social distinctions, with his message that we are all equal before God and all in need of repentance and forgiveness. John, with his promise – as you’ll hear next week – that one is coming who will baptize, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire, and who will separate the wheat from the chaff.

Prepare the way of the Lord says John the Baptist – the original Leveller – to us this morning. Prepare a straight path that will lead you to him, for every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight. And if we will prepare the way of the Lord then we shall see and enjoy for ourselves the salvation of God. For ultimately there’s only one way of life and that’s the Lord’s.