Friday, December 7, 2012

This is good news?

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...So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
Excerpt from Luke 3:7-18

This passage of scripture starts out intense and then ramps it up to eleven on a scale from one to ten:  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."

Okay then. That was...intense. And then, just when you think this guy is just another crazy street preacher, he starts getting specific about what he means when he says, "Bear fruits worthy of repentance." 

"Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."

That sounds kind of reasonable--at least, compared with the "brood of vipers" talk, it sounds reasonable. And then he makes a prediction: 

 "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."

This is what he refers to as "good news"--the stuff about the winnowing fork and burning chaff. Again, we're not used to thinking about preparing for Christmas in this way. Our idea of good news is hearing that the price of gas went down, or that a package we've been waiting for has arrived, or that someone we loved who was sick is recovering faster than expected. Most people, most of the time, spend most of our energy thinking about our own lives--our jobs, our families, our communities, the people and things that are familiar to us. 

John the Baptist doesn't see the world the same way that we do. Is that a good thing? The author of Luke's gospel thinks that it is. What do you think?

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