Matthew 3:1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" 4 Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 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. 10 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. 11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
John the Baptiser lived at a time when the leaders of his people betrayed their integrity in the reckless pursuit of wealth and power. They openly collaborated with the Roman oppressors: Herod was granted the title of "King of Judea" by the Roman Senate, and enjoyed the support of Caesar Augustus. Joseph Caiaphas was appointed High Priest in AD 18 by the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus in exchange for his loyalty to Roman rule. And the merchants of Jerusalem readily lined their pockets with the proceeds of lucrative fish and corm contracts with the Roman military. In response to this John offered his nation’s leaders an opportunity to renounce their greedy ways through baptism. No longer could they claim their proud Abrahamic lineage. New behaviour was needed - they should “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
This resonates deeply with the world I inhabit:
Like John, my world is led by leaders who are greedy for wealth and power.
· Internationally Vladimir Putin grasps at the Ukraine and Benjamin Netanyahu does all he can to avoid sharing the land with the Palestinian people.
· Nationally Jacob Zuma refuses to admit that he stole state money to build his personal home, and surrounds himself with government leaders who enrich themselves at tax-payer’s expense.
· South Africa has one of the biggest pay gaps in the world - with CEOs of the JSE's top listed companies earning as much as 725 times their workers' average salary
Advent is an opportunity for people of Christian faith to take up the unfinished task of John the Baptiser. We are to invite the greedy leaders of our world to renounce their grasping ways and begin again – because “one who is more powerful” is coming into our world. South African leaders need to hear again the words of Scripture: To paraphrase the words above: Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Nelson Mandela as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Mandela”.
And if we discover the lust for wealth and power within our own souls, let us ask the Christ of this Season to baptise us with new values and fresh vision.
Prayer for Advent:
O God: Guide me in these weeks to what you want to show me this Advent. Help me to be vulnerable enough to ask you to lead me to the place of my own weakness, the very place where I will find you the most deeply embedded in my heart, loving me without limits. Amen
First Sunday in Advent
2. Preparing the Way
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 20.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.