Advent Reflections: John the Baptist and the Kingdom of God (3)

john baptist new coat

This is the third in a series of Advent reflections on Luke 3:7-18.

I used to commute to Chicago every week for seminary. I rarely needed to go down to the “miracle mile” on Michigan Avenue, but every time I did, there would be a guy talking about the end of the world. What would it look like today if John the Baptist was preaching his message in our town today?

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. 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.” – Luke 3:7-9 (NRSV)

Have you ever seen one of those sidewalk preachers? You know the ones I mean. They stand on a corner or at the train station and shout things like: “Repent! The end of the world is near!” or “You are a sinner – turn to Jesus and be saved!” Honestly, do they really think anyone is listening…

You must have seen the guy across the street. I had to wait to cross the street, so I was stuck standing over there for a while. There was another group waiting that looked like they were on a lunch break from work. This guy says to them:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance!”

He was going all biblical on them or something. It sounded like one of those crazy prophets from the Old Testament. You know, like Jedediah or Amadeus. What was he even talking about? What does that have to do with today?

You know, sometimes I don’t even go to church when the pastor is preaching on the Old Testament. Usually it’s in the summer, so I’m busy anyway. The New Testament is more my book – after all, that’s where we find Jesus.

I don’t know what this guy thinks he will accomplish with all that yelling. My religion is my business. I don’t yell at you and tell you how to live your life. I pray when I go to sleep at night, and I give money to the church. I give my old clothes to the shelter –and I don’t even ask for a receipt. I’ve even gone into the city to serve food to the poor.

I don’t need someone yelling at me to repent. I’ve already done that, and I live a good life. At least, I think it’s good enough.

Why do we avoid talking about repentance and judgment in the Church? What does it mean to repent? What does it mean to live a good life?

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