Brood of Vipers! Ax at the Root of the Trees! Don’t Take More than Your Due! Come and be baptized!
John is an interesting fellow. And why was he so popular?
One of the blessings (at least in my opinion) of the Narrative Lectionary is that you do not have 2 Sundays dealing with John the Baptizer every year in Advent. But his story is a part of the faith story. and so we have to tell it and explore it at some time. This week is that time. Earlier (in chapter 1) Luke has told us about the conception, birth, and naming of John. Now in this week’s reading (Luke 3:1-22) he tells us about the ministry of the now grown-up John.
You can read it here.
What does one do with John?
Is John only preached as a precursor to Jesus? Or is John preached as a stand-alone? John’s message of condemnation and repentance seems so different from Jesus’ message of forgiveness — or so we are often told, I suggest Jesus has his own moments of condemnation and calls to repentance. Where is there good news in his preaching?
Maybe the clue is in the beginning of the passage: “He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,”.
How do we prepare for the coming of Christ? (which of course is why the RCL puts John in Advent). What changes do we need to make in our lives to be fully ready for God’s Kingdom to break into our reality?
I suspect many of us find John’s style a little bit off-putting. I also suspect there are days we wish we could get away with preaching this style–speaking truth to power, and to the less powerful. Because, if we are honest, part of what it means to prepare for the coming Promised One is to be open and honest about the fact that the world is NOT what we wish it was. And even closer to the bone, we are not what we know we could be. If we are preparing for the Kingdom to burst into our reality we need to know how we do and don’t live as Kingdom people.
Maybe this is what we really need to preach from this passage, to hold each other’s feet to the fire, to ask when we are a part of the brood of vipers. And then to remind each other that John is not the Promised One.
John himself names that another is coming, one who is greater than John. Over the next few months we will follow the other, the one for whom John sees himself preparing the way. This one will remind us that God has a path God wants us to follow. This one will remind us that we don’t always stay on that path. But this one will also remind us that God forgives, that God is Gracious. We read about John, we struggle with the challenges John lays before us, but we follow Jesus. Jesus who shows up at the end of this chapter, declared as God’s Beloved Son.
And in Jesus we move beyond John’s reminders of repentance to the reminder of forgiveness, the gracious gift that preceded, accompanies, and follows our acceptance of who we are — angel or viper.
Gord Waldie is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Canada, currently in Northwestern Alberta. He shares his life with his partner and their four daughters and blogs (periodically) at Following Frodo or shares his “churchy-stuff” at Ministerial Mutterings
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