5 December 2010Matthew 3:1-12
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (v.2)
John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord (ie Jesus). Like
Elijah of old (1 Kings 19:4-9;2
Kings 1:8), John trusted God to provide for him in the
wilderness. His vocation was to be a prophet. (Jesus considered him
to be the greatest.) John called the people of Israel to repent, ie
to change the direction and the core values of their lives.
Baptism in the river Jordan was God's chosen way for people to have their sinful lives drowned, so that they could emerge to something new, and cleaner: a life of love and justice, as the Jewish law required.
The inspiration for repentance and baptism came from God's revelation to John: that the kingdom of heaven was imminent. The kingdom was to be God's gift to change the world: the whole human family would live as God always intended, under God's authority, in a fellowship of mutually supportive friends, offering praise to God.
Failure to repent could mean only one thing when the kingdom came: exclusion and destruction. John was like a doctor talking straight to the long-term alcoholic who has damaged their liver: either you stop drinking or you die. John's words to the Jewish leaders - Pharisees and Sadducees - were particularly harsh. And they could not escape the force of his words by appealing to their descent from Abraham. The kingdom was to be for converts to righteousness.
John knew that God was sending someone much more powerful, authoritative, gifted and worthy than himself. Jesus would embody the kingdom that John could only foresee and prepare people for. Though it would take Jesus' life and death on a cross to release the full meaning of the kingdom - the Holy Spirit (the very life of God) forgiving, inspiring, guiding and empowering people who followed Jesus in faith and hope. Their hearts would overflow with love for God and for one another.
Divine generosity, indeed! But Jesus' future baptism was also to be with fire (verse 11). Like John's baptism, it would require repentance - without which, death and destruction.
The Advent season challenges us to confess sins and repent. What can best support you in being honest and effecting long-lasting change in your life?
In your experience what are the most creative ways in which your local church can be a 'prophetic' community, calling for 'repentance' in your neighbourhood or in wider society?
How could the sacrament of Baptism become a more significant event for you and members of your congregation as well as for those directly concerned?