WelCom December 2016:
Parishioner of The Immaculate Conception Parish Stratford, Tom Gibson, reflects on this Sunday’s Gospel.
Gospel, Matthew 3:1-12
1 In due course John the Baptist appeared; he proclaimed this message in the desert of Judaea, 2 ‘Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.’
3 This was the man spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said: A voice of one that cries in the desert, ‘Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.’ 4 This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather loin-cloth round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, 6 and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. 7 But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming retribution? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance, 9 and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. 10 Even now the axe is being laid to the root of the trees, so that any tree failing to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. 11 I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is more powerful than I, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’
Matthew Introduces John the Baptist
Matthew, who writes for the Jewish people, introduces today’s Gospel about John the Baptist to whom a quotation from the Prophet Isaiah applies. A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for Yahweh. Make a straight highway for our God.’ (Isaiah 40:3). John the Baptist, a child of old parents, likely orphaned young, grew up in the dessert, an environmentalist. He had lived with the semi-ascetic Essenes. Matthew said how important it is for us to know how John dressed and ate, because this confirms him as a prophet like Elijah in the Old Testament, who ‘wore a hair cloak and a leather loincloth.’ (2 Kings 1:8). John’s message for all: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ (Matthew 3:2). The same message Jesus taught as He began his ministry in Galilee. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ The arrival of John in the Judean desert sparked a renaissance of the pending arrival of the promised Messiah.
John the Baptist’s rugged and impoverished background had little in common with those who came to see and hear him. Yet he drew the people from suburbia into the desert. He baptised with waters of the River Jordan, and his call to repentance sparked a response from thousands who came to confess their sins and be baptised. John was no mealy-mouth crowd pleaser. On seeing the Pharisees and Sadducees, he did not fail to use appropriate metaphors. He called them snakes who would not escape God’s approaching displeasure or being Abraham’s descendants would not excuse them from God’s wrath. They were not the owners of God’s truth. Ancestry, privilege, status or knowledge makes no-one great in God’s sight. While John baptised with water, he prophesied a greater one coming, who would baptise with the Holy Spirit and Fire.
This Advent, as John preaches fear of God, and obedience to the commandments, ‘for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!’ (Matthew 3:2). A new era is being heralded by an Incarnate Saviour. Like John the Baptist, His background was rudimentary and unbecoming of greatness; born of the Virgin Mary in a stable; ‘Who, of His own free will He gave it all up, and took on the nature of a servant. He became like man, He appeared in human likeness; He was humble and walked the path of obedience to death – His death on a cross.’ (Philippians 2:7-8). This is our God, the God who said, ‘A new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ (John 13:34). It is a love that defines true greatness. Resolve in this season of goodwill, to love one another as God has commanded. Let’s spread our love around wastefully, so that it can flow to wherever it is most needed. It may just be that through our love, a ‘straight highway’ can be made through the wilderness of life for Christ to touch the hearts and lives of all those around us.