If you board the wrong train it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1938.
PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, Amen.
SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3: 1-2, 5-12)
PRAYER FOCUS: Preparing the Way.
John the Baptist is perhaps the most overlooked character in the Advent story. And yet, aside from our Lord Jesus Himself, John is most central. He was sent to announce the imminent arrival of not Jesus the babe, but Jesus the Messiah. He called the children of Abraham to repentance, and to prepare the way of the Lord.
In classic prophet fashion, John was direct and blunt. “Brood of Vipers” is what he called both the liberal left (Sadducees) and the religious right (Pharisees) of two thousand years ago. He was pretty hard on the political establishment, too.
The Sadducees were the prevailing political and religious sect of the day. They had abandoned the literal interpretation of Scripture and disavowed both the words and the warnings of the prophets. They didn’t believe in the afterlife or in angelic beings. They had adopted Greek (modern) dress and ways of thinking, as well as a condescending attitude towards those who clung to more traditional religious values. Consisting largely of the Hebrew educated class, Sadducees were politically correct and politically active. They favored accommodating foreign cultures and pagan religions, all under the guise of tolerance and open-mindedness. The Sadducees had, in most theological respects, ceased to be Jewish and become an “all-inclusive” religious club.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Pharisees were passionately committed to the strict interpretation of every letter of Jewish Law. They were models of religious zeal who prided themselves on the excellence of their prayers, their many and public acts of charity, and their moral rectitude. The most abundant descriptor paired with the word Pharisee is “hypocrite”, from the Greek hypokrites, which means an actor, or the wearer of a mask. To the Pharisees, appearances were everything. The Pharisees were people who knew the word of God, but in their striving for appearances, completely missed the point.
The point here is simple: both factions had lost their way. John warned them that the One that will follow him would come with a winnowing fork and with fire. He called them all, regardless of political stripe, to repent and to bear fruit. Prepare the way…
John’s call to repentance is no less powerful, no less accurate, today, in our time. Our Lord and Savior hasn’t changed His mind on what is and what is not sin. He still calls His children to bear fruit for His kingdom. And He is still separating wheat from chaff—one for the granary, the other for the fire.
As we approach the second week of Advent, Christian, consider what that warning means in your own life. Are you bearing fruit? Are you wearing a religious mask, or are you walking out your faith with integrity? Have you let your allegiance to worldly politics eclipse your allegiance to Jesus Christ? Both John and Jesus excoriated Sadducees and Pharisees alike for being spiritually dead, and for leading people astray.
These are things to pray over this week. Heed the warning of John the Baptist. Prepare the way of the Lord.
It’s Monday Morning. What is the destination of the train you’re on? Advent is a great time to step off the wrong one and get on the right one. When the train arrives, let us each be found in the Lord’s granary.