Meeting John (the Baptist)

The Gospel Reading is Matthew 3:1-12.

On the 2nd week of Advent, we always meet John. In our three year lectionary cycle, the cycle of lessons we read in worship, John the Baptist appears here every year. He’s a character who appears in all four gospels and lives like a frontiersman. He’s in the wilderness, in an untamed and chaotic place, and baptizing those who come to him. As Christians, we see John the Baptist as Elijah. He is the great prophet of old who prepares the way for the Lord. During Advent, we are called to prepare. And part of that preparation is listening to John’s words and figuring out who he is speaking too.

In today’s reading from Matthew, John the Baptist launches into a fiery sermon. He accosts the Pharisees and Sadducees who are members of two different denominations within Judaism. He calls them a brood of vipers and questions their commitment to the message he is sharing. John’s language is full of fire and brimstone. He describes trees being cut down and thrown into pits of fire. Jesus is described as someone who will divide people and toss some of them into unquenchable fire. This is not our usual festive, peace-filled, or serene image we expect during this season. We might be decorating our homes to look like Hallmark Cards but John’s words paint a different picture.

So who is John speaking to? At first glance, he’s speaking to Pharisees and Sadducees. The last time I checked, we are not Pharisees, nor are we Sadducees. We could assume John isn’t speaking to us. But I challenge us to listen to his words. These are words for us. The Pharisees and Sadducees are the insiders. They are the ones who know their scriptures, study, pray, and worship. They know God and dwell with God everyday. John the Baptist is speaking a word to those who are the insiders, those who know their faith and know God. John challenges them. He wants to know if they are seeing what God is doing in the world. He challenges them to look around and see Jesus. That’s our challenge, too.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 12/04/2016.