It is no great surprise that John the Baptist Mt 3:1-12 makes an apperance at the second Sunday of Advent, he is a true spokesman of the season. Advent, or Adventus for those who prefer Latin, means arrival. It is the Latin translation of the Greek Parousia which is the word used to describe the second coming of Christ. John the Baptist screams “make way for the Lord.” He prepares people for the Messiah. John also is firmly planted in the Old Testament and its traditions. He is the offspring of a Priest, and he is a prophet. His Baptism is one of repentance. His food and clothes signify his mission. He is a person to take notice of, and someone who delivers an important message. He is separate from society, yet calls out to society. He is a herald. His message of repentance and preparation was an important one for those that surrounded the Nativity of our Lord, his message is important for those that await the second coming of Christ today. Past and present.
John also speaks to the members of his community, and especially its prominent members. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the cultural elite. The Sadducees came from the Temple of Jerusalem, the Pharisees an elite group from the Synagogue. The Sadducees had a narrow view of the covenantal relationship between God and man. They accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament and believed in neither Jewish oral tradition or any written tradition beyond the Pentateuch. They did not believe in eternal life, or in the punishment of sins after life. If one got away with something, they got away with it. Period. I wonder if they understood Johns baptism of repentance? I wonder if they could acknowledge or identify their sins? Theirs was a legalistic approach, black and white; and John certainly asked that they mend their ways with a change of mind and heart.
Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
he shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
Those Pharisees formed those synagogues during the exile that the prophet Isaiah addresses. They differed from the Sadducees in that they did believe in life after death, and that there were repercussions for their actions. They were particular about avoiding sin, and those that had sinned. They thought few were chosen for entry into the Kingdom of God, and did everything they could to guard their entry ticket. The blind, the cripple, the infirm all incurred the wrath of God for their sins. The Pharisees avoided them at all costs. They did not fully understand Gods Love, and Mercy and Forgiveness. They had their faults along with their positive attributes. At the time one of their faults was that of using their knowledge of the covenant to build a culture of Nationalism and that was a burden to many. Every one and every society has their faults or sins, then and now. The Sadducees had theirs, the Pharisees had theirs, and we have ours.
Both groups (Pharisees and Sadducees) held positions of high regard in their cultures, yet John refers to them as a “brood of vipers.” Vipers, snakes, the beast of another exile. John’s baptism does not simply wash away their sins, it demands that they take action. It calls them to repent, and to change their ways. They are not granted a privilege, they are given a mission. Their rank in society demands that they fulfill a duty, they are called to action. They are called to change in action and attitude, body and soul. They are called to recognize the LORDS presence, and to be obedient to that LORD. John’s message is simple “Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
John’s message of repentance is superimposed over Isaiah mention if the ‘Shoot of Jesse’ that is the sprout that emerges from destruction. Is 11:1-10 If John preaches repentance for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, Isaiah gives a description of that kingdom. That kingdom is described as Gods spirit resting upon them, an era where the lion lays next to the lamb and certainly an idyllic setting. If the description given by the prophet Isaiah were to be condensed into one word, that word would have to be Shalom which is the Jewish word of Peace. It is not the peace of man but that of God. It is not the absence of war and suffering and struggle, but more the absence of any thought of them. It is also harmony and a completeness. It is resting in God’s peace, and returning to obedience. An entry into the Kingdom of Heaven and stepping back into that garden of God man left so many years ago.