Each Advent, I commit to reading the daily lectionary, the Bible readings that prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christ’s coming. This year, I’m writing a brief reflection on these readings each weekday. It’s Advent, day nineteen.
Readings: Isaiah 9:18-10:4; 2 Peter 2:10b-16; Matthew 3:1-12
In yesterday's Gospel reading, we found John the Baptist in the wilderness, preaching repentance to the people. And today, here we are again in that same wilderness with the same prophet speaking to the same people. He preaches the same message of repentance, makes the same reference to the sandals of the Christ. He talks of fire and water again. So much is the same, here, so why the juxtapositions of the Mark and Matthew passages? Why are we repeating the lesson?
Take a closer look. Notice the difference. See the crowd? Matthew notes the many Pharisees and Sadducees who've joined the crowd, writes that they were "coming for baptism." Perform, perform, perform--they were performing for the people, acting as if they, too, were seeking the repentance preached by John. But John saw through the ruse, and he exposed them.
"You brood of vipers! ... 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 that therefore does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
The religious leaders were skilled in the art of performance and political pageantry. "Words, words, words--" John said, "all you do is speak words. Instead of relying on your law and lineage, show the fruit of a reformed life."
The words of John are a reminder to us today. We have our own laws and lineages, don't we? We have the faith of our fathers, the rules and regulations that have been passed down from generation to generation. Baptists? You have your rules, your favorite fathers (whether of antiquity or present day). Catholics? You have yours, too. Non-denominational Bible-Churchers? Don't pretend you're free of your own laws and lineages. (I've seen the Christian living section at the local bookstore.) And make no mistake about it, John's call isn't to ignore those laws and lineages, at least not altogether; instead, it's to live a life that bears the fruit of repentance, that embodies the spirit of those laws and lineages.
This is today's Advent reminder. Live into the spirit of the laws and lineages of the faith. Repent. Bear fruit.
It's the nineteenth day of Advent. Are you preparing?
***The Practice of Prayer: Thanksgiving***