Matthew 3.1-12 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Reflection People from all over Judea and Jerusalem are leaving the cities, their safe places, their comfort zones, and going into the wilderness. This is no small thing. The wilderness of Biblical time is beyond the limits of civilization and definitely inhospitable. It is an in-between place where ordinary life is suspended and new opportunities emerge. Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt into the wilderness situated between Egypt and the promise land of Canaan where for forty years the Israelites experienced danger, hunger, thirst and temptation. While in the wilderness they also experienced divine surprises, receiving manna from heaven and water out of rocks, evidence of God’s presence with them. After his baptism Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days where he experienced hunger, thirst and a series of temptations. We remember that Jesus also went into the wilderness to pray. (Luke 5.16)
This suggests that the wilderness is a place we go when seeking new possibilities or opportunities. It is the out of our comfort zone, in-between place in which we examine our selves and our lives to expose the ways we turn away from God. When we dare to open our minds and hearts to acknowledge that we have short changed ourselves by failing to live in alignment with the will of God, we have already made a half turn back toward God. To complete our return and align our selves with God we must also change our behavior. This is the second step, “to bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Which is to say, our words must be fulfilled by action.
I believe it is safe to compare our Advent season to time in the wilderness. This is a season to step out of our comfort zone. This is a time for us to acknowledge that the world of cities wrapped in tinsel and religious sentiment does not have the last word. In this season of self examination we admit the ways we turn away from God, we take responsibility for our actions, we experience remorse, express regret and reform our behavior by looking for opportunities to extend peace and good will to all people. As Jesus teaches a bit later in Matthew’s gospel, “ ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matt 7.21)
Jesus comes to fulfill by his actions the words of the Hebrew Scriptures so too are we to fulfill the Word God as revealed by Jesus. Let us take the words of our Hallmark Christmas cards seriously and find every opportunity we can to extend peace and good will to all people on earth.