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 baptised by him in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, 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 axe 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 baptise 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 baptise 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.”
If you think the figure of John the Baptist is an intrusion into the ‘Christmas story’, then you’ll really struggle if he’s on the door into heaven! … I don’t imagine he was the most comfortable person to be around.
We’ll be drawing out a number of practices in the coming days, which encourage us to make ’embracing disturbance’ a habit. Think about the main characters we tend to focus on at this time of year … all going about their day-to-day business, but then whoosh … a tsunami disturbs any calmness. John calls us to walk straight: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’.
Walking straight is the only way to go; if we anticipate Christianity continuing to be ‘caught rather than taught’. We all know that who we are shouts louder than what we say, but today’s younger generations have taken this on to a whole new level – have you noticed how anyone under thirty can spot a phony much more easily, because they are no longer assuming trust ‘should’ be given as a result of someone’s title, or high-profile role? John would fit in well … he never stood on ceremony, even when facing Herod.
Advent is a great time to ask
- Where do I need to straighten out? Where do I need to walk in a different direction, or bluntly in John’s language; where do I need to repent? We need to be facing the right way before we walk. ‘Repent for the kingdom of God has come near’ (2) … that’s the message which brings John into this story.
- What needs to be cut down? Verse 10 might equate to spiritual open heart surgery, but those who hear the word of God, even when it challenges them to the core, will reap the fruit.
- Where do I need to walk straighter? John’s call is to ‘produce fruit in keeping with repentance’ (8) is a reminder we need to actually walk in the right direction. ‘Walk the talk’ is an appropriate phrase at this point.
- Who can I help ‘prepare the way for the Lord’ for? It may be as simple as inviting someone to a Carol Service, although God may be prompting you to do something for someone else, which becomes a signpost towards Jesus in the same way John’s life and ministry was. The key is listening to God and then acting on what he says, but whoever it is always takes more notice from someone who’s walking straight themselves … believe me, they’ll notice.
Dear Lord, I’m sorry for where I’ve wandered to the point I’m not walking straight, but wobble all over (always best to name where!) Give me the grace to re-focus on you and then take one step at a time, deliberately, in your direction. Show me Lord, who I might connect with this day, so their way to you might become a little clearer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.