Good morning all!
And the crowds asked John, “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.”
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
When we deal with Advent, at some point we must deal with John the Baptist. Different kind of leader and preacher is John. He is little bit more wild. Likes to be out in the desert a little bit more. This could have been for many different reasons but what we know is this. John is preaching pre Jesus’ ministry. John has his own band of disciples and is making enough of a splash that the authorities take notice. And John is the main playing for setting the stage for Jesus. John prepares the way and lets us know when Jesus is coming. John is the epitome of preparation…of Advent when we wait for Jesus.
Finally, John’s main message in that preparation is repentance. Today is that message. John addresses his audience from that viewpoint. I don’t know about you but when I start preaching I don’t usually address the congregation as a brood of vipers. John is passionate! Repentance or getting into right relationship with God and others is necessary to prep for Jesus to come.
Repentance means to turn around. And hopefully we are turning back towards the other and God. This action does prepare our hearts.
In the church world I belong to, we don’t deal with this very much. Just like we don’t preach that people are brood of vipers, we usually don’t preach about how to right where we have wronged. But at the same time, this is an important act to create trust, honesty and care for one another. Sometimes it is important to repent of where we have hurt others or where we have stepped away. Sometimes it is important to have the important, uncomfortable but honest conversations with each other and with God.
This whole conversation reminds me of one of my favorite poems of all time. Mary Oliver is a poet who speaks to my heart. Her poem “Wild Geese” talks about what it means to repent but not spend our entire lives beating ourselves up about it. That is the thing about repentance…there is a fine line between healthy and carrying those things with us everywhere. It is easy to get trapped in the shoulds. So Mary Oliver writes about what it means to be human to love what we need to love. And we are still called by her and wild geese and God to tell each other about our despairs and hurts. I will leave you with that poem today….what will you do to prepare your heart for what is to come? Will you repent and then reclaim your humanness? Will you turn back to community and to God to help with that process?
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.