Advent 2A December 4. 2022 Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist didn’t mess around. He lived in the wilderness by the Dead Sea. He got by on a meager diet of bugs and wild honey. He wore clothes that even Good Will wouldn’t take. And when he preached, it was fire and brimstone every time. Fire and brimstone every time.
“The kingdom is coming,” is what he said, “but if you thought it was going to be a tea party, you had better think again. If you don’t shape up, God is got an ax that’s ready to cut you down and toss you into the hottest bonfire you’ve ever seen.” He said being a Jew wasn’t enough. And one of his favorite ways of addressing the crowds was to call them a pit full of snakes.
According to John, their only hope was to clean up their act as if life itself depended on it. And as a sign of how serious they were, baptism would be their first step in changing their ways. Some thought he was Elijah who had come back to life. Others thought he was the Messiah they were waiting for. But John would have none of it. “I’m the voice of one yelling myself blue in the face. I’m the one trying to knock some sense into your heads and get you on a straight path to meet your maker.”
The One to come. The One he was preparing the way for would be something else. That One would baptize with a fiery spirit and not just tepid water. That One would have so much power and might that John figured he couldn’t even carry his shoes.
Well, indeed, that One was on his way and he was even more than John could imagine. You see, John figured that this was something we could do for ourselves. John figured that with a determined faith we could get ourselves out of the mess we are in. John figured that with some serious repentance and changing our ways we could make it on our own. But Jesus saw things differently. Taking John’s message of fire and brimstone wasn’t going to be enough. Jesus knew that if salvation was ever going to happen he would have to enter the fire itself and stand in the midst of brimstone to smother it with love and dowse it with forgiveness. Jesus knew that he would have to put himself in the midst of all these things that separate us from God.
One of the pastors in our weekly study group put it this way. He said, “instead of being the ax that is ready to cut down the fruitless tree, Jesus knew he needed to climb upon that tree and die there for the sins of the world.”
John was absolutely right when he said that the one coming after him was more powerful than he was, but more powerful in a way that he could not possibly imagine. The one coming would be powerful in his relentless pursuit to love us at all costs. The one coming would be powerful in his extravagant outpouring of grace into our lives and helps us to change and live from its power.
Love and forgiveness and grace are at the heart and soul of relationships and Jesus understood that relationships must always come first. As a matter of fact, that’s why Jesus shows up in the firsts place. That’s why he puts on skin and takes flesh and blood and becomes Immanuel – God with us. God wants an intimate and personal relationship with us and it is that relationship that changes everything.
It is this relationship with him that turns us around and throws us in the air so that he can find the grain of wheat in the midst of all the chaff. Jesus goes with us into Christmas; he goes with us to sort through all the junk in our lives and in our world to find the seed that is eternal and good. And that seed that he finds, he is going to plant it in the fertile soil of our hearts so that it can grow and come to life and bear fruit, blessing us to be a blessing for the world.