The end is near. Continuing Matthew’s theme, John the Baptist carries a heavy load of pointing out that the kingdom of God is immanent. A source of comfort to Mary in her magnificat, it is a source of worry for those in powers. John the Baptist promises radical restructuring of the world.
“Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Matthew’s John the Baptist is an angry prophet. Annoyed that someone told those in power–the Sadducees and the Pharisees–was to come. Not only the Sadducees and the Pharisees cooperating somewhat with the Imperial forces, (warning: be very careful here to avoid antisemitic rhetoric which is way too easy for us Christians to fall into), but chances are John was neither a Sadducee or a Pharisee, but instead was from the sect of the Essenes.
John the Baptist is the one preaching about who is to come, so I wonder if he’s mad at himself that the Pharisees and Sadducees arrived. Or I wonder if he is afraid, because he realizes that his message is spreading, and that those in power might hear it.
For those in power John the Baptist and Isaiah 11’s message of peace are not comforting one. The cow and the bear shall lie down together and the Lion will eat grass. There’s a great proverb going around that for those in power, equality looks like deprivation. The humbling of the bear and the fact that the lion can sustain itself on small foods is not a comfort to those who find security in being the meanest, mightiest and to have the most stuff.
Psalm 72 discusses similar equity. Equity where the poor are not only uplifted, but the mighty are crushed. As a Western Cis-hetero-white woman of middle class, I confess I feel some discomfort when I think about all of the privilege I enjoy. I may die in credit card debt, but I will never ever die of starvation. However, I do not want to be crushed.
I do, however, want everyone the opportunity to be saved. I want the poor to have enough to eat, I want the homeless to have a safe place to be, I want those who are lonely to have places to find relationship. I do, in my heart of heart, want justice. Even as I acknowledge that justice can be a scary thing.
However, we know more about the story and can take comfort. Jesus has come not to be served, but to serve, as is stated in Romans 15, we have Jesus to learn how to do justice, and how to live out the kingdom. John the Baptist says he is not even worthy to carry Jesus’s sandals, but we know for a fact that Jesus asks John to baptize him first thing, showing how the world will be turned upside down.
We also know that Jesus adopts any and all who follow him as the children of God. What John the Baptist proclaims as a warning: being a son/daughter of Abraham is not enough to be good, becomes a promise of love. God will love any and all who follow, and can make us all into God’s children–and baptism can be a seal of that covenantal adoption.
Let us know how Advent 2 is working for you. Did you pick a particular text to focus on? Are you finding yourself squeezing in carols or pageants in this shortened season? I hope you have some time to reflect during this packed season.
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY for over eight years and blogs at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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