John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin 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."
And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
You brood of vipers
What a way to start a sermon. John must have had a special talent. I can't imagine people hanging around to listen to me if I start out by insulting them. So I won't.
Having said that, I have to say John makes some very good points. He is telling his followers that pedigree makes no difference when it comes to your relationship to God. He says, “do not begin 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. “
It does not matter that my family has lived here since the 1800's. My ancestors, by all accounts, were good people but it is who I am that counts. It is what is in my heart that counts. It is what I think and do that counts. God knows.
When John was asked by people how they should change their lives, John was very specific. He told people to share their abundance. If they have two coats, give one away. If they have extra food, share it. He told tax collectors to collect no more than the required amount because tax collectors were notorious for collecting more than required and pocketing the difference. He told soldiers to not extort money from people in order to line their own pockets.
John was speaking to his time. We know the issues in our own lives. We know in our hearts what we can do to cleanse ourselves from wrong doing. Advent is a time when we look forward to the arrival of Jesus and it is a time of reflection on what we can do to make ourselves better persons.
John made it clear to his followers that he was not the messiah but the messiah was coming. He said, I baptize you with water but the messiah will baptize you with the holy spirit.
In his fire and brimstone way John also used the metaphor of the wheat harvest. He said, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” I am very sure all of us would like to be grains of wheat safely stored in a grain bin and not the refuse that goes up in flames.
The last part of this gospel reading says, “So with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” I think this might be a stretch to believe that many people walked away from John thinking, “Wow, that was a lot of good news”.
We know that Jesus came with the same message of repentance and he also gave us a message of love and forgiveness. That to me is the good news! When our hearts change and our actions follow with signs of our love for each other, God's holy spirit enters us and we can truly rejoice.
Many Blessings To You All,