In our third Sunday of the Season of Advent, the readings turn to the “firstcoming” of Jesus. John the Baptist, in the third chapter of Luke’s Gospel, announces the impending appearance of Jesus in public ministry. This was the beginning of a new age—the breaking into human history of what Jesus would call “the kingdom of God”—God’s will to be done right here and right now.
John’s announcement was earthy and direct. First he got his audience’s attention by calling them “brood of vipers”—children of snakes. Then he called upon them to repent—not just to feel remorse for their sins, but to change the way they lived. When they asked for guidance he gave them advice that was very down to earth. He didn’t say “Go to the temple and make a sin offering.” He didn’t say “Go and study the Scriptures.” Instead he said, “Change the everyday ways you treat the people around you—do right by them.” If people were so poor they lacked clothes and food, those who had those things should share them. Tax collectors should not charge more than what was actually due and soldiers should not abuse their situation of power by extorting money from people.
John is not only urging the people to change their lives in the direction of mercy and justice. He is pointing to a deep mystery of the Incarnation—its earthiness. In taking on human life completely, with all its limitations, God enters fully into the practical ordinariness of human life and dignifies it. It is within the ordinary, the specifics of daily life, that the “kingdom of God” shows forth, as people who love and are loved by God turn their lives around and love their neighbors as themselves. In so doing they are vipers no longer. They become icons of the new age.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Deacon Frederick Erickson