I never mastered the hellfire and brimstone style of preaching. You have to be willing to go places in your message that terrifies, shames, coerces, or guilts people. Hellfire and brimstone preaching is not not prophetic. It’s manipulative and harmful.
That’s not to say we don’t need to repent and change our ways. We do. We all do. It’s always easy to point fingers to others who need to change. It’s harder to see those not-so-blatant attitudes and behaviors we have ourselves. Moreover, if we don’t engage in any self-reflection or prayerful guidance, we can easily overlook our sinful inklings. But deep down, in our heart of hearts, we know and we want to change. We will even seek it out.
That’s who I’m reminded about when I wonder about those who went out into the desert to confess their sins, repent, and be baptized by John. Who were they and what were they looking for?
Sometimes I think we look to traditions and holidays, like Christmas, to retreat to so we can be distracted from real life. It’s not hard getting caught up in the idealized vision of Christmas created in the movies, music, and The Nutcracker (disclaimer: we do have three precious granddaughters who make The Nutcracker magical). The Christmas of the media is one where the world is a happy place, perfect families gather around a beautifully decorated tree to drink eggnog and sing carols. It’s a world where no one fights or is ugly, and Uncle Joe doesn’t drink too much. It’s a world where terrorist acts, political gerrymandering, and the realities of the economic crisis don’t intrude. It’s a world where Santa rewards good little girls and boys and no one gets kidnapped, abused or murdered by a parent. Most important, it’s a world that doesn’t have much to do with the birth or life of Christ.
I don’t know about you, but that’s not the reality that I know! I’m beginning to get a very clear picture of who went out into that scary wilderness to listen to what a scary dude had to say. Stay tuned for the “brood of vipers”!