A reading from the Gospel of Matthew.
Later, John the Baptizer appeared in the desert of Judea. His message was, “Turn to God and change the way you think and act, because the kingdom of heaven is near.” Isaiah the prophet spoke about this man when he said,
“A voice cries out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord! Make his paths straight!”
John wore clothes made from camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His diet consisted of locusts and wild honey.
Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole Jordan Valley went to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized, he said to them, “You poisonous snakes! Who showed you how to flee from God’s coming anger? Do those things that prove you have turned to God and have changed the way you think and act. Don’t think you can say, ‘Abraham is our ancestor.’ I can guarantee that God can raise up descendants for Abraham from these stones. The ax is now ready to cut the roots of the trees. Any tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire. I baptize you with water so that you will change the way you think and act. But the one who comes after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clean up his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into a barn, but he will burn the husks in a fire that can never be put out.”
This is the Word of the Lord.
I love John the Baptizer. I have this image of him that’s like this strange uncle that the family is just a little bit nervous to take out in public. He’s just a little bit unfiltered. Willing to say anything regardless of how appropriate it might or might not be. He’s not afraid to rub folks the wrong way. He’s the kind of a guy who could land himself (and everyone associated with him) in hot water without a lot of effort. This is my image of John the Baptizer.
And, this is the guy that God calls on to be the forerunner of Jesus.
Some people were attracted to John because they liked his message of change and hope. The Messiah—who had been the subject of prophecies for centuries—was on his way. They knew that John had a part to play in this story.
Some people were coming out simply because they were curious what he was going to do next. What will he say? What will he eat?
Others were not happy with him or his message. They didn’t like the way he spoke to or about them.
And, yet, John kept proclaiming the message.
THE KINGDOM IS VERY NEAR! He would say. Or yell.
He especially rubbed the religious authorities of his time the wrong way. Prophets are like that. John wasn’t afraid to call out the things that were in opposition to the Kingdom of God. He wasn’t afraid to point out the things that were roadblocks in the “Way of the Lord.” So, the Pharisees and Sadducees caught the brunt of his rage.
And, later, King Herod himself would hear about this man John.
John, like Kingdom people of today, stood in opposition to the things that weren’t as God wanted them to be. He wasn’t afraid to proclaim to the nations what wasn’t right. He wasn’t afraid to call out the religious officials who had blocked people’s access to God and the Temple through heavy rules and financial desires.
In this Advent season, we are faced with an important question. Are we willing to stand in the way of those who wish to act in opposition to the Kingdom of Heaven?
John prepared the way for the Messiah by calling out the religious and governmental authorities for keeping people on the outside.
Are we willing to do the same?
One more thought about the crazy uncle analogy…
In these days, it is important for us to be the crazy uncle. It is important that we not silence our voices in the face of things that are in opposition to God’s Kingdom. It is important that we speak up for the poor and the hungry and the immigrant and the refugee and the orphan and the widow. It is important that we become just a little bit unhinged at injustice and work to right that which is wrong. That’s a part of being a forerunner of the Kingdom of Heaven.