In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 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 3:1-12
John the Baptist looms large on the horizon during Advent. Why John? Isn’t this after the birth of Christ? Why would we read this before Christmas?
John’s ministry was to prepare the way for Christ, which is what we are doing during Advent. You may remember beautiful story of the baby who leaped for joy? Well, this baby grew up, and now he is this very odd man. He lives in a cave. He eats locusts dipped in honey (try that if you are on a “biblical” diet). He wore a scratchy goat’s hair shirt and preached in the middle of nowhere. He was not married (which may be explained by his eating, dressing, and housing habits).
John the Baptist is the guy who shouts “WAKE UP!” He is the last prophet of the Law. Wait, why do we need a prophet of the Law to wake us up to the Messiah who showed us God’s grace?
The law of God shows us that our world is distorted and fallen from what it was created to be.
Why do we need to hear Law? Church Father Chrysostom says, “You don’t know to repent unless you know that you are off the mark.”
Sometimes we aren’t aware we are sick until the doctor shows us the test results.
We humans don’t always see the symptoms of our fallen, diseased world. We see self-destructive behaviors as if they are good. We seek death as if it is life.
In our world, people often wonder why we Christians need to point out that life is precious, and that it should be protected from conception to natural death. Why not just let people do what they will do? Aren’t we only supposed to preach grace?
Grace doesn’t take root until we hear God’s law. We have to understand that we are broken, fallen people. We all are. And taking a life – before or after birth – is a sin against God, against another person, and against humanity. We have to be like John the Baptist and proclaim this.
And then, like John, we point to Jesus, the savior. Our goal is not to condemn but to point to our Savior Jesus Christ.
Heavenly Father, thank you for John’s example to us, that we are not only to live out and share the sometimes unpopular message of God’s Law but that we are also blessed to share God’s redemptive Grace. This advent season bring the Church together in prayer, that we may proclaim God’s truth and share love and redemption to those who don’t know You. In His Name we ask these things, Amen.
This month’s reflections are written by an anonymous Anglican.