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.”
Full Disclosure: I hate snakes. I am terrified of them.
I sometimes joke that Ireland is the perfect country because there are no snakes there thanks to Saint Patrick.
In 1999 I was a month away from my first trip to Colombia. That year National Geographic had anaconda snakes as their cover story. It was all about the largest snakes in the world and their happy home in Colombia (can you hear my sarcasm about this?!). One of my seminary friends in Chicago showed me the magazine and asked me if I was crazy, going to Colombia–given that I have issues with snakes.
We all have to face our fears and deal with the fact that the things that terrify us at the end of the day–are all around us. They are not just confined to one place or one country.
There are passages in the Bible about snakes! John the Baptist calls the crowds gathered around him, “You brood of vipers!” Not very nice of him, calling people snakes. But John knows the truth, we all have a lot of issues with our sin and how we handle ourselves.
So he tells those assembled who have food and coats to share them.
He tells the tax collectors to only collect the real tax, not to collect extra and steal for themselves.
He tells soldiers not to abuse their power and extort money and property from fearful people.
Basically he says, “Get your act together people!”
But even John the Baptist has a confession on that day, “The one who is coming after me, I am not even worthy to untie his sandals.” John knows that the requirements and repentance required to follow Jesus will be even greater. And even when it comes to that, he doesn’t have his act together, he’s as snake-like as everyone around him that’s he’s calling out.
This is where the facing of the fears comes in.
Our fears are the things that hold us back and keep us away from God.
Fear says, “Be afraid of anyone who is different, they are dangerous.”
Jesus says, “Repent, trust me, do not be afraid. Don’t keep saying you have Abraham as your ancestor, that’s not enough!”
Fear says, “Surround yourself with weapons to be safe.”
Jesus says, “Let’s beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.”
Fear says, “Other religious traditions are dangerous, watch out for those people.”
Jesus says, “Embrace and love all people. Let me worry about who is or is not part of God’s family.”
Fear says, “We are dying, we should hold onto all we have with tightened fists. We cannot do a new thing, it’s too risky.”
Jesus says, “Trust me. Believe in Resurrection.”
Jesus is simple and radical all at the same time.
Maddening isn’t it?
That stuff can change your life and the life of our world.
I’m still working on my issues with snakes.
Like everyone else, I am still slow to let go of my personal vices.
But in this Advent Season I am also working really hard spiritually to let the story of the Nativity work on me once again, opening up my heart where it is hard, soothing my soul where it bruised, calming my fears and anxieties when they are out of control and inviting me into a renewed trust in the Spirit’s mysterious resurrection and redemptive power.
This Advent Season so much around us feels out of control, and so we do too. The Good News is that we are all in the same boat. We’re all vipers.
But we all also get to access Jesus and he is love, change, transformation and renewal.
All we need.
Blessings to you on this Third Week of Advent. My prayer is that it continues to be a Holy and Transforming Season for you….