GOSPEL: MATTHEW 3:1-12
Just before Jesus begins his public ministry, John the Baptist appears, calling people to mend their ways and speaking of a powerful one who is to come.
1In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’ ”
4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Christmas Preparations are a full time job for some folks. Some
people decorate before Thanksgiving. The stores are certainly ready for
Christmas before Thanksgiving. Some shop for Christmas presents or work
on making presents all year long. There’s trees to cut down or pull out of
the attic. IF you have school age children you need to be prepared for a
month long celebration of crazy sock day, Christmas hat day, red and green
day, class party day, and then prepare yourself to have them at home for
vacation for 2 weeks.
And certainly we prepare for worship, for pageants, for choir anthems, and
Christmas carols. There’s stockings to be hung by the chimney with care –
cookies to bake – presents to wrap – lights to hang. It’s exhausting some
years, and for many people it carries the emotional weight of years past, grief of
loved ones who have died. We make preparations in this season as we
know something special is coming, and indeed has come, into the world.
John the Baptist’s specific role in preparing – This is the one of whom the
prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ”But what sorts of preparations attend to the Lord’s path – what does it
mean to straighten and smooth the way? As I thought about this while
writing, the Lord’s prayer came to mind. When we pray thy kingdom come,
we certainly know that God is bringing about the kingdom with or without
our prayers – but we pray that it might come to us and through us and
among us. It is about much more than the birth of Christ or the coming of
Christ again to judge the world in righteousness – but the whole kingdom –
the whole reign of God in its completion.
mountains low – something that is echoed in Mary’s “Magnificat” in Luke
and sounds more like a kind of wholesale structural change that is part of
the Lord’s coming. (https://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2013/12/
the perspective of an oppressed people under the thumb of the Roman
Empire. Conflict and chaos were a part of life, as much as today – and Isaiah
speaks of a remarkable peace. The peace we pray for and hope for – a balm
for people who are suffering and afraid. The peace is a reversal of fortunes
for the suffering and the grieving.
not to comfort or to coddle. He doesn’t care what you think of him or who
gets offended. In the spirit of Old Testament prophets, he has a personality
and a message to proclaim. It’s not a conversation, it’s not a counseling
session. It’s a word from the Lord for you to chew on, a warning and a
Transformation that requires pruning and purification. Axes and fire.
The metaphor of winnowing fork, wheat, and chaff is preservation
and refinement, not division. The inedible part of the wheat must be
separated in order for it to be put to use. What the wind and fire remove
are the husks that get in the way: the anxieties, self-absorption, apathy, or
greed that makes us less generous, less just, or less respectful of others.
Even the chaff has a use as fuel for fire. This is not a text about sending
some people to hell and saving others, but about purifying each person –
setting us free from what holds us back from living in the kingdom, and
living as the kingdom. And sure enough, later in the New Testament, this is
exactly how the wind and fire of the Spirit work: not to destroy, but to
sanctify, purify, challenge, restore, and empower.John has a pointed word of prophetic imagination for the religious
leadership – those who are in high places, whose fortunes are of their own
making in collaboration with the oppressing powers. You brood of vipers,
he quips. And yet – snakes don’t seem to be dangerous in the kingdom of
God. It seems the very snakes themselves are transformed and able to be
in relationship with even the most vulnerable. This is hope for all of us.
New Testament Professor Matt Skinner writes this week on Working
preacher.org. “that God’s apparent patience with people, systems, ideas,
policies, and theologies that are predatory, unjust, and mean should not
lead anyone to assume that God will let them stay as they are.”
(www.workingpreacher.org. Matt Skinner)
any of us stay as we are, when He desires our whole lives to be brought
under his reign. The smooth and straight path is made through us, as God
takes care of our rough edges and straighten our wills until they are brought in
line with his.